As he faced reporters assembled for the release of his administration’s review of the Brooklyn Homes mass shooting, Mayor Brandon Scott was asked about the most damning takeaway from the after-action report.
“Why do you think some warnings were ignored?” he was asked. “What do you think was at the bottom of this?”
“The truth is – is that I don’t really care what it’s about,” Scott replied.
“Now it’s about holding people accountable who didn’t do things, who didn’t share the information,” he continued. “What really matters is that we have two young people dead and 28 other people shot and we have to have accountability at every level.”
Acting Police Commissioner Richard Worley struck a different tone at the Wednesday news conference when asked why officers on the scene of the Brooklyn Day street party didn’t get out of their cars amid reports it had attracted hundreds of people and was becoming violent.
“Honestly, that is the thing that has me scratching my head because we have dealt with incidents – not as large as this, but we deal with incidents every single day since Covid, of pop-up parties and things that we don’t know about that we’ve handled – that have never escalated to anything like this,” he said.
The major in charge of the Southern Police District has been transferred out of his post, and a captain, Jason Bennett, was promoted to take over, Worley noted. (Maj. Samuel Hood III, who was assigned to lead the district last year, was not mentioned by name.)
“Multiple officers” have already received disciplinary papers, and others may be identified “if we get more information a month from now, six months from now,” Worley said.
The long-awaited report finds failings across multiple city agencies, but attributes the worst failures on the day of the party – a much-loved, longtime community event that spun out of control – to the Baltimore Police Department.
The report verifies media reporting about how police ignored and sometimes mocked 911 calls and radio transmissions of rising tensions in the hours before the deadly shooting.
But reading through the document released on Wednesday, which does not identify officers and other actors by name, it’s hard to say exactly who might be disciplined:
• Could it be the “Gold Badge Lieutenant” who “gave very little consideration on the public safety concerns of having a crowd size of 800 to 900 people without sufficient police presence?”
• Could it be the “Charlie Shift Commander” who “released and relieved the Charlie shift knowing that there was a crowd of 800 to 900 people that would require additional resources beyond those of the oncoming Adam shift?”
According to the report, this person “gave the impression that they had just learned of the large crowd, when in fact it was known for some time.”
• Could it be someone responsible for the absence of body-worn camera evidence?
The report notes that Charlie shift supervisors and one officer “were completing calls for service and assigning dispositions to those calls throughout the day; however, there are no body-worn camera videos from these members to capture this work, a potential policy violation.”
• Could it be the officer joking about calling in the National Guard after a 911 call, made nearly three hours before the shootings, that informed police of guns and knives present among the growing crowd?
• Or perhaps the major who posted this on the police internal messaging app at 12:11 a.m.: “Monitor only, don’t get drawn in and become a target.” The shoot-out that finally drew officers to the scene began minutes later at about 12:30 a.m.
• Looking back before the July 1 event, would the police intel and social media staff who failed to determine – and flag – the date and time of the annual party pay a price?
• How about those up the chain in city government who have pledged for years to institute protect-and-serve “community policing”?
“BPD Commanders and Neighborhood Coordination Officers over-rely on transactional and formal community associations to learn about community events in lieu of building informal relationships through proactive engagement of residents,” the report notes.
“This likely led to a lack of situational awareness of the Brooklyn Day events prior to July 1.”
Again on Wednesday, Mayor Scott made clear that that no blame for the cascade of intelligence failures and enforcement lapses will extend to Worley, the career BPD officer that Scott tapped for the top cop job in June, or a month before the worst mass shooting in the city’s recent history.
“This is not on the acting commissioner,” Scott said, adding, “This was a few days in for the commissioner, right?”
Questions and Contradictions
The report does back up, in considerable detail, the scathing “big picture” conclusion in its community engagement section:
“Officer indifference may have compromised the awareness, planning and response to Brooklyn Day prior to the large crowds arriving.”
But it also leaves key aspects of the incident unclear, in part because of contradictory findings within the report.
“Due to the prior year’s event being shut down by BPD (due to its large size, unpermitted nature and indefinite endpoint), attendees and organizers were particularly upset,” the report says on page 36, quoting a supervisor.
“This likely affected whether BPD would receive notification and how the event was advertised,” the report continues, seeming to blame “upset” attendees for not disclosing the date and time this year’s party after having the event curtailed last year.
But rebutting the report, Worley said on Wednesday that last year’s Brooklyn Day “wasn’t shut down.”
Instead, he said at a City Hall news conference, “We monitored, we had officers present. They still had the event. People still enjoyed themselves.”
In the report, the “upset” attendees and organizers angle is dropped quickly. Instead, it says on page 44 that “two residents recall last year’s event and the police presence, which they viewed as ‘good.’ They remember police officers mingling and patrol cars quite visible.”
Another odd feature in the report is that it never identifies the Brooklyn Day 2023 party organizers, a gap that leads to quite a few questions, such as:
• Who hired the DJ and arranged for free pony rides and an ice cream truck?
• Who brought chairs, tables and other equipment to the party in a U-haul truck?
• What relationship did the organizers and vendors have within the Brooklyn Homes community?
• What was the organizers’ relationship with the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC), which owns and manages the complex?
Quotes from residents are almost totally absent from the lengthy document. Instead, their input is largely paraphrased, including this broad assertion:
“Community members conveyed to the BPD Office of Equity that, had this large group of people converged in a predominately white neighborhood, the police response would have first been preemptive and then certainly swiftly tactical toward dispersing the crowd well before any violence occurred.”
In addition to releasing the after-action report this week, city officials announced the arrests of a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old in connection with the July 2 shoot out.
Neither teenager is accused of killing Aaliyah Gonzales or Kylis Fagbemi or of injuring the 28 people shot in the initial burst of gunfire. According to police, the 18-year-old arrested had himself been shot, but also was in possession of a handgun.
Pressed to say why the investigation has not progressed further over two months, Worley asserted that the process is complex and could be lengthy.
“It may go on for a year, until every lead is run out,” he said.
The investigation “may go on for a year, until every lead is run out” – Acting Police Commissioner Richard Worley.
Scott, meanwhile, vowed to make a number of fixes in city government.
They range from holding multi-agency meetings to better coordinate on the issues raised in the report to requiring city personnel to alert the mayor’s office about future events that may attract more than 50 people.
Standing beside Faith Leach, the city administrator who compiled the report, Scott called the document “the path forward” to move on from one of “the most painful chapters in our city’s history.”