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Cross v. Baltimore City Police Department

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

September 3, 2013

MEREDITH CROSS
v.
BALTIMORE CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT

Krauser, C.J., Zarnoch, Sharer, J. Frederick (Retired, Specially Assigned) JJ.

OPINION

Zarnoch, J.

In this case of a fired police officer, the appellant does not claim, in the words of Justice Holmes, that she has a "constitutional right to be a policeman." McAuliffe v. City of New Bedford, 29 N.E. 517, 517 (Mass.1892).[1] Rather, she argues that her employment was terminated in violation of her constitutional right to marry and to engage in intimate association.

Appellant, Meredith Cross, was employed as a police officer in the Baltimore City Police Department ("the Department") from 2004-2010. On July 7, 2009, she received a "Notification of Complaint to Accused, " in which it was alleged that she had "been making personal contacts with person(s) of questionable character." On March 9, 2010, the Department officially charged her with four counts of violating its General Orders. All four charges were directly related to appellant's marriage to Carlito Cabana––a convicted murderer and a member of Dead Man, Inc. ("DMI"), a prison gang.

The first charge included four specifications of conduct unbecoming a member of the Department, as she was alleged to have discredited the Department and herself through her marriage to Cabana. The second charge included three specifications of personal contact with a person of questionable character. The third charge alleged that appellant "failed to properly perform her duties and assume the responsibilities of her position." The fourth charge alleged that appellant failed to timely inform her superior officers about the change in her marital status.

On November 30, 2010, appellant, pursuant to the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights ("the LEOBR"), [2] presented her case before a three-person administrative panel (the "Hearing Board"). Appellant pled guilty to the following charges: Charge 1, Specification 4; Charge 3; and Charge 4. These three charges stemmed from appellant's failure within 24 hours to inform her superior officers about her marriage to Cabana. The Hearing Board found appellant guilty of the remaining charges, and recommended her termination. On December 9, 2010, Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld, III, terminated appellant's employment.

Appellant appealed this decision to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, which upheld her termination. She now appeals the circuit court's decision pro se.[3]

FACTUAL BACKGROUND[4]

A. DMI

In the late 1990s, DMI was formed by three inmates who carried out "hits"[5] for a different prison gang, the Black Guerrilla Family. Over time, DMI has grown in size and scope, and now actively participates in criminal enterprises both in and out of jail. Although each individual unit or "set" varies depending on the location, DMI is organized along the following lines: supreme commander, commander, lieutenant commander, a sergeant at arms, and, in some units, an accountant. Once an inmate joins DMI, he is a member for life and it is impossible for a member to quit the gang.

Detective Joseph Decandeloro, Baltimore City Police, testified that officer safety is an important concern when dealing with DMI members because they pretend to cooperate "[i]n order to gain intelligence." Detective Decandeloro also noted that DMI members are "allowed to have – basically get into our trust, along with any other gang. It's a common practice that they're allowed to deceive us. They're allowed to talk to us. It's the same practice with any gang."

B. Appellant's Relationship with Cabana

In 2002, appellant lived in New York City and worked as a Financial Advisor for American Express. While in New York City, a friend convinced her to start writing letters to Cabana, who, at the time, was incarcerated in Maryland for second-degree murder.[6]Appellant stated that Cabana "seemed like an intelligent person, and knowledgeable, so he became [her] friend." Soon thereafter, a "serious relationship" developed between appellant and Cabana, and she moved to Baltimore to be closer to him.

In February 2004, appellant applied to be a police officer with the Department. Although she moved to Baltimore specifically to be closer with Cabana, her application did not indicate that she had a boyfriend. While being interviewed for the position, appellant was asked if anyone she knew was in prison. Appellant responded by providing the name of her brother, her friend's husband, and Cabana––who, according to appellant, was her "friend."

Although appellant described her relationship with Cabana in platonic terms during her interview, at some point in 2004 they were married in a "spiritual ceremony" in the Patuxent Institution. According to appellant, it was not a legal wedding; rather, they simply exchanged vows in "a little ceremony [as] part of some Muslim thing [Cabana] was involved in." From that point on, appellant considered herself married to Cabana.

While visiting Cabana in prison, appellant would identify herself as Cabana's wife. From March 16, 2008 to June 15, 2009, appellant visited Cabana 26 times. Cabana called appellant "108 times during the 90-day period between February 28, 2009, and May 29, 2009." The Department produced evidence that appellant would speak to Cabana on the phone while on duty. In fact, she spoke to Cabana on one or two occasions while answering service calls. The Department conceded that appellant was never heard on the phone giving Cabana any information relating to official police business.

On April 26, 2009, appellant and Cabana were officially married. On July 10, 2009, three days after she was served her Notification of Charges, appellant officially notified her superior officers about the change in her marital status from single to married.

Under the Department's General Order C-2, Rule 6, Section 4, "[m]embers of the Department are required to report through official channels any change in their address, telephone number or marital status within 24 hours." At the administrative hearing, appellant testified that she did not know about this requirement. She testified that she incorrectly believed that she only had to inform her superior officers about any change to her address and phone number.

C. The Investigation into the Relationship and Cabana's Background

In May 2009, appellant, while visiting Cabana at North Branch Correctional Institution (hereinafter "NBCI") in Cumberland, used the identification of another person to gain entrance. When questioned about this identification by an NBCI staff member, appellant informed prison officials that she was a police officer in Baltimore City, and stated that she must have accidentally used the identification of a person whom she previously arrested. Appellant's misuse of another person's identification was reported to Lieutenant Damon Thomas, Intelligence Officer at NBCI, who called the Department's Internal Affairs unit (hereinafter "IID") "to let them know that . . . a Baltimore City police officer in fact is coming up to visit a inmate at [the] facility and he's a gang member." Appellant did not inform her superior officers about her use of another person's identification.

From May to November 2009, Detective Choi Cheung, Baltimore City IID, began working with Lieutenant Thomas to investigate appellant's relationship with Cabana as well as Cabana's ties to DMI. During the course of the investigation, the extent of Cabana's involvement with prison gangs was uncovered. For instance, in 2002, while incarcerated in the Western Correctional Institution (hereinafter "WCI") in Cumberland, Cabana was "validated"[7] by prison officials as a member of a prison gang.[8]

At WCI, Cabana was the supreme commander of DMI, which, according to Lieutenant Thomas, meant that he was "the one who runs the daily organization of the gang, of the inmates that are housed inside the facility." At the hearing, the Department produced a letter addressed to Cabana, which referred to him as an "SC." Lieutenant Thomas explained that S.C. was shorthand for supreme commander. Additionally, the Department also presented evidence that Cabana was friends with one of the three original founders of DMI.

Cabana and the "top 25 gang members" at WCI were subsequently transferred to NBCI. He was placed on administrative segregation shortly after his arrival at NBCI because prison officials considered him a threat to the security of the prison. Other DMI members and units were apparently unhappy with Cabana's management of DMI, causing Cabana to be the target of a state-wide prisoner "hit list." NBCI officials validated Cabana as a member of DMI in 2006.

While he was still incarcerated in Maryland, Cabana received money orders from appellant. Correctional officers knew that appellant was sending Cabana money because they authorized a "mail cover, " which enabled law enforcement officers to "pull [Cabana's] mail and look at his mail before the inmate gets it." When Lieutenant Thomas was asked if "the reason for the mail cover was because [Cabana] was a [high-ranking] gang member, " he answered: "Yes. Yeah. When you have [high-ranking] people like that we like to look at their mail and see what's going on with them because you get all that information from that."

After the IID investigation into appellant's relationship with Cabana was initiated, correctional officers at NBCI discovered pictures of appellant in Cabana's cell. Specifically, officers found "photographs of [appellant], both in the Baltimore Police uniform and in civilian attire, and a picture of the pyramid [symbolic] of [DMI]." Authorities discovered that "Cabana was also in possession of a letter written by another inmate and DMI gang member named 'Tombstone.'" The Department also presented ...


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