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Simon: Why Won’t the State’s Attorney Admit What He’s Done?

September 18, 2012

Baltimore States Attorney Gregg Bernstein has yet to explain why his agency promulgated new rules more than a year ago that have resulted in far fewer homicide cases being prosecuted by his office than under his predecessor. When we left him in August,  Bernstein and his capable spokespeople were satisfied to mislead a reporter about the relevant statistics, deny the new policy existed and then deny the relevant statistics were, in fact, relevant.

This is really David Simon’s story, so he’s written a follow-up.

The new post includes more of the back story about the policy change that effectively forbids police officers to charge murder cases, including the text of an email Acting Homicide Commander Lt. Leonard Willis sent to his squad sarcastically congratulating them for getting a couple of cases charged under the new policy.

Two good cops who bucked the new system were basically forced out, Simon writes.

Then he expands on some of the (probably) unforeseen results of the new system:

Mr. Bernstein’s new policy has created a dynamic that actually ties the hands of skilled homicide detectives. First, by denying detectives the ability to charge defendants immediately during interrogations, he has denied them the ability to leverage additional statements from defendants – a practical interrogative tactic that is basic to the way cases are built.

By putting the cuffs on a suspect as soon as he implicates himself in a murder, telling him he’s going straight to jail if he doesn’t tell the truth about more culpable people, a detective can sometimes get a killer to build the case against himself by telling lies—or to implicate someone else.

Second, Simon writes:

Once a suspect is in pre-trial detention, a detective seeking additional witnesses to a murder can return to the neighborhood with instant credibility, and those city residents asked to risk open testimony against such an offender can know that the man will not be up on the corner at the end of the day, free and clear and capable of retribution.  Mr. Bernstein’s new methodology slams that window shut as well.

Simon excoriates Bernstein for not explaining himself. He has, instead, denied and obfuscated. What could be keeping him from laying the facts out forthrightly?

UPDATE: City Paper emailed Bernstein’s spokesman, Mark Cheshire, a link to Simon’s latest and asked, “Why not just admit what you’re doing and defend it as good policy, with facts?”  Cheshire replies: “There is nothing new here, Ed. There is nothing to add to what we have already shared with you. There is no new policy.”