Opinion: Baltimore County Police subvert Anton’s Law, accountability objectives

New department policy runs counter to law to hold police accountable for use of lethal force

Authors: Lorena Diaz, Niesha McCoy, and Nicholas Smith are members of the Baltimore County Coalition for Police Accountability

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Anton’s Law grew out of public outrage about the use of lethal force by police officers in Maryland, particularly the brutal killing of Anton Black, an unarmed Black teenager, by Officer Thomas Webster IV on Maryland’s Eastern Shore on Sept. 15, 2018. Anton was a father and a star athlete, loved by his family and friends. He had a bright future.

Officer Webster should never have held a position in Maryland law enforcement. Webster had 30 use-of-force complaints on his record when he was an officer in Dover, Delaware. He was ultimately fired after being arrested for kicking and breaking the jaw of an unarmed Black man, Lateef Dickerson. Nonetheless, he was certified to work in Maryland and hired by the Greensboro Police Department because the town’s police chief falsified Webster’s records.

Anton’s Law, which went into effect on Oct. 1, 2021, changed the Maryland Public Information Act to allow the disclosure of records related to the investigation of police misconduct. Previously, such records were barred from public disclosure, which thwarted efforts by families and communities harmed by police misconduct to hold officers and departments accountable. The General Assembly recognized that if records of investigations into police misconduct were kept secret, the public had no way of ensuring that those investigations were conducted fairly, thoroughly and effectively. They had no way to hold agencies accountable when they were not.

Anton’s Law is as crucial to ensure transparency and accountability in policing in Baltimore County as it is across the state. But a newly announced Baltimore County Police Department policy subverts those goals and Anton’s Law itself.

This opinion piece was originally published in the Baltimore Banner on January 3, 2023.