Maryland State’s Attorneys Act to Usurp Sheriff’s Authority

Guest Editorial by Carolyn Ewing

The Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association’s (MSAA) Prosecutorial Police Reform Sub-Committee has made a number of recommendations to its membership; it is unclear how many of the state’s attorneys endorse the recommendations, but some of those recommendations bear close scrutiny because they support the effort of groups and lawmakers who want to reduce the authority of local law enforcement to act to protect citizens and reduce funding for local law enforcement.

It is disturbing to note that an association of elected officials, the state’s attorneys, are attempting to usurp the authority of another group of elected officials, the sheriffs. One of the most disconcerting recommendations of the MSAA is appointment of a new police agency within the offices of state’s attorneys that would have the authority to investigate police use of force in instances involving serious bodily injury or death. This recommendation begs the question of who determines what serious bodily injury is; currently, any injury to an individual while being taken into custody is treated by the local sheriff’s departments as serious, requiring an internal report and evaluation of the use of force. However, to elevate non-life-threatening injuries to investigation by an external police agency is a violation of the constitutional authority of elected sheriffs.

Establishing police authority under the auspices of state’s attorneys will inevitably reduce the resources available to support the sheriffs; it also reduces the efficiency with which individual instances of use of force can be addressed, which can have the unintended consequence of failure to detect inappropriate use of force in a timely manner. Ambitious state’s attorneys could also err in the other direction, as did the State’s Attorney for Baltimore, Marilyn Mosby, when she misused her office to pursue politically motivated and unsuccessful prosecutions of police officers in the Freddie Gray case. This is an attempt, it would appear, to bow to the voice of the far left and to fix a problem that does not exist.

Ironically, MSAA’s recommendations state that their association is “opposed to any independent agency usurping our constitutional obligations in the prosecuting of any case, including police use of force cases.” However, MSAA did not consult with Maryland Sheriff’s Association prior to submitting recommendations, some of which usurp sheriffs’ authority, to their membership. They have thus far been unresponsive to requests from the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association (MSA) to discuss MSA’s concerns. A classic case of “good for me, but not for thee.”

As we look toward the next legislative session in Annapolis, we know there will be bills introduced to defund police. This resolution might be regarded as the opening salvo in that effort. If people in Maryland want locally elected sheriffs, who understand their communities, to retain the authority established under the State Constitution to enforce the law without interference from entities with less direct knowledge of the operation and obligations of sheriffs, they need to speak out against the usurpation of authority of local sheriff’s departments throughout the state.

Mrs. Ewing is a former public relations executive who spent most of her career in Washington, DC where she worked with clients in the public and private sectors to develop and implement strategic communications and crisis management plans. Since retiring to Easton in 2007, she has been active in community affairs and served as president of the board of directors of the Mental Health Association of the Eastern Shore.