ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland General Assembly approved a measure on Thursday to give the state’s attorney general independent authority to bring criminal charges against police officers after investigating deaths when officers are involved.
The Maryland House voted 99-37 for a bill already passed by the Senate, sending it to Gov. Wes Moore, who said he will sign the bill.
The legislation expands on a package of police reforms approved two years ago in response to concerns about police accountability after the 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.
The Independent Investigations Division was created in the attorney general’s office to investigate deaths of civilians when police are involved. Current law empowers the division to probe the cases and provide facts to local prosecutors, who then decide whether to prosecute.
Supporters of the new bill say it aims to end potential conflicts of interest between local prosecutors and police. Opponents say it’s an overreach of state powers over locally elected prosecutors.
Del. Jason Buckel, an Allegany County Republican, noted that 23 out of 24 state’s attorneys from both political parties in Maryland oppose the bill. He tried to change the measure so that local prosecutors would have 60 days from after a report by the attorney general’s office is complete to decide to file charges. If local prosecutors decided not to, the attorney general could still move forward with charges against an officer.
“It simply says that we should follow the processes we followed, and we should trust our own local elected leaders to exercise their judgement first, give them 60 days to access whether or not charges are viable and if so what the charges should be and not allow the attorney general’s office to be the sole arbiter of that decision,” said Buckel, who is the House minority leader.
But Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said the amendment would create a two-tiered system that would muddle the process. He said the bill takes the next step to ensure investigations are independent.
“Even if there was a scintilla of doubt that there could be some kind of partiality or bias in the local state’s attorney’s office, it takes that off the table,” Clippinger said.
The House defeated the amendment.
The independent division was created on Oct. 1, 2021. So far, it has investigated 31 deaths of civilians involving police. Local prosecutors have decided not to prosecute in 17 of those cases, while the others are still open.
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