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New laws open up police records, nix life without parole for minors

Patrick Semansky

Among the dozens of new state laws taking effect today are some of the landmark police reform measures the General Assembly passed this spring.

The policing laws restrict the use of no-knock warrants; require the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate police-involved deaths; prohibit police departments from purchasing surplus military equipment; and make records of investigations into police officers public.

“A citizen who files a complaint against an officer will immediately have access to the process, they'll be able to know where that complaint is in the process, any outcomes and determinations, and they'll be able to see that individual’s entire … what used to be considered personnel records,” said House Judiciary Committee Vice Chair Vanessa Atterbeary, who led the police reform effort in her chamber. “That will be immediate.”

That law is known as “Anton’s Law,” named for Anton Black, a 19-year-old Black man who died in Greensboro, Maryland, in 2018, after police officers pinned him to the ground for more than five minutes while handcuffing and shackling him. One of the police officers involved was the subject of nearly 30 use-of-force investigations while working for the police department in Dover, Del., but failed to disclose those records when he got the job on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

“This is going to help, quite frankly, agencies — departments to be able to look at an officer’s records and see, OK, this officer has 10 violations for some sort of use of force, some sort of improper language against citizens, and we're not going to hire this individual, or because of this, should this individual no longer work here?” Atterbeary said.

She added that the new attorney general-led investigations, by no longer allowing police to investigate their coworkers, will also improve transparency and trust in police.

Changes to police discipline procedures, including the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, and rules governing the use of force take effect next July.

Another law that takes effect Friday prohibits courts from giving minors life sentences without the possibility of parole. It also allows adults who are convicted for crimes they committed as minors to ask the court to reduce their sentences.

The law, known as the Juvenile Restoration Act, was particularly controversial when it made its way through the General Assembly, with many Republicans worrying that it would lead to the release of people who still pose a threat to the public. Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed it, though the legislature overrode the veto.

However, proponents of the law — mostly Democrats — emphasized that it does not guarantee anyone’s release; it just gives juvenile offenders the possibility of being granted parole following the usual parole application process.

The law will also likely have a disparate impact on Black Marylanders, who are far more likely to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole as minors.

Other laws taking effect Friday include one prohibiting anyone at least 13 years old from intentionally releasing a balloon into the atmosphere; one allowing over-the-counter medications to be sold in vending machines; and laws creating the Governor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, also in the Governor’s Office.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom. @RachelBaye
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