THE COST OF COVER-UP: COMMISSIONER ANTHONY BATTS, THE 4 MILLION DOLLAR MAN
By Lt. Randy Sutton (Ret)
I have fought my entire life for the cause of justice both as a 33 year police veteran and as a writer and journalist. I believe deeply that integrity and honor are the cornerstones of leadership and without a personal commitment to those ideals, true leadership is impossible and those who inhabit the top rank of a law enforcement agency but do not possess those qualities are simply imposters in a pretty gold braided uniform. Case in point, Baltimore Police Commissioner Batts.
“PRESS TELEGRAM. LOS ANGELES – A unanimous jury on Thursday awarded $4.1 million to a Long Beach police sergeant and two officers who claimed they were systematically retaliated against after reporting that some of their colleagues were conducting illegal lobster dives while on duty in the Port of Long Beach.
Officer Craig Patterson, Officer Warren Harris and Sgt. David Gage each were allotted between $1.1 million and $1.5 million after three days of deliberations in the courtroom of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Conrad Aragon.
Patterson and Harris have long contended that they were marked as “snitches,” denied job opportunities and had personal items stolen and vandalized in the aftermath of the mini-scandal later dubbed “Lobstergate.” Gage, who supervised the pair, said he was forced into early retirement.”
Lawsuits against police departments are not uncommon. But multimillion dollar awards for wrongdoing by top echelon leaders of police agencies because they retaliated against HONEST officers who reported misconduct are exceedingly rare. Such was the case in Long Beach California when the department under then Chief of Police Anthony Batts. Interestingly enough, the officers who made the claim and sued the Chief and the city wanted no money. They simply wanted an apology from Chief Batts and to be left alone. Batts and the Police Department refused those clearly irrational demands and the taxpayers forked over more than 4 million dollars because of ego and abuse of power.
ADMINISTRATIVE CORRUPTION. The definition of corruption is “The misuse of public power for private benefit”. Think of officers taking money for not performing their duties, a la Serpico. Corruption scandals have rocked police agencies for years in New York, Los Angeles and other major cities but in reality organized, systemic corruption has basically been eradicated from law enforcement. Thankfully, gone are the days when money and/or political favors for non-enforcement as well as organizationally accepted brutality plagued law enforcement agencies. But one aspect of corruption has long been unrecognized or confronted, Administrative Corruption. It is a term that Chiefs and Sheriffs across the country shudder to hear and almost refuse to accept.
ADMINISTRATIVE CORRUPTION: “Privileges granted through the power of authority misused for private benefit”.
The heads of law enforcement agencies across the country are in positions of immense power. Many have no checks and balances such as police unions or bargaining units that can bring personnel situations forward for mediation. And even when those unions or bargaining units exist, officers know that when you “fight city hall” you are bound to lose in the long run. So when a law enforcement officer actually takes on “the system” it truly is an act of not just courage but usually desperation. Case in point: “LOBSTERGATE” Honest hard working cops discover misconduct within their own ranks. It is the nightmare that haunts all police officers because it is truly the “no win” situation. If you come forward you are “the snitch” and you face being ostracized by your peers. If you don’t you may be drawn into the scandal and be seen as an accomplice. The Officers in Long Beach under the command of then Chief Anthony Batts, do the right thing and bring the misconduct of their peers to Batts attention. Instead of supporting the honest officers, Batts attempts to destroy their careers and discredit them professionally. The officers though are courageous enough to fight Batts and his power as Chief. They defeat him in court and are awarded 4.1 million dollars of taxpayer money. Money that would not have been awarded had Chief Batts, simply apologized to the wronged officers and made them whole. Ego and power are the great corrupters and Chief Batts demonstrated his true lack of decency and integrity throughout the investigation and eventual loss in court. His career was soon over with the Long Beach Police.
A short stint as Chief of Police in Oakland California followed. He resigned two years into his three year contract citing “an overwhelming load of bureaucracy”. Sources however told the San Jose Mercury News that his tenuous relationship with Mayor Jean Quan and heat from a federal judge and police monitors who have threatened a federal takeover of the department over its incomplete effort for reform led to his decision.
Batts then unsuccessfully attempted to become Chief of Police of the San Jose Police Department. After a thorough background investigation, Batts, according to the news organization longbeachcomber.com was turned down for the Chiefs job because he had “a history of domestic violence against women with whom he had a relationship.”
Of course any background investigation would have revealed Batts history and the fact that because of his failures in leadership the taxpayers of Long Beach paid out over four million dollars because he had been part of a cover-up of police misconduct. But in 2012 that did not stop Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake from hiring Batts as the Police Commissioner.
Apparently the lessons of Long Beach have not been learned by Commissioner Batts. Case in point: Detective Joe Crystal. Det. Crystal witnessed the beating of a prisoner by members of the Baltimore Police Department, co-workers of his. Knowing the possibilities of retaliation from some members of his own department, Crystal did what his conscience and integrity told him to do, report the misconduct. What he did not expect was that when he went to Commissioner Batts personally to report the acts of harassment he was experiencing and was assured by Batts that he would investigate, that the investigation would target HIM. According to Crystal and the subsequent lawsuit filed by his attorney, instead of investigating those who were threatening him and leaving dead rodents on his car, the Internal Affairs unit began investigating Crystal for such potential policy violations as giving his wife a ride in his unmarked car. Crystal upon realizing that he was being targeted after his plea to Batts for protection, fled the department taking a job as a Deputy Sheriff in Florida. The Baltimore Police even went as far in their retaliation to “red flag” Crystals Police Certification” with the “Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Upon request of Crystal’s Attorney though, the “red flag” was removed when he attempted to discover who it was in the Baltimore Police Department that requested it. He is now suing the department and Batts. Déjà vu back to Long Beach and one has to wonder how much the taxpayers of Baltimore will have to pay as a result of Batts’ conduct.
The leadership failures of the Baltimore Police Department might never have hit the national stage had it not been for the riots that occurred in the aftermath of the arrest and death of Freddie Gray in police custody. However, the ineptitude of Mayor Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Batts was thrust into the national spotlight as mobs burned and looted with impunity as the police stood by impotently or were attacked themselves. The world stood and watched as the officers, most of whom had no protective gear were viciously attacked by the mob and did almost nothing. 160 officers were injured and instead of taking action, incredibly, gave up their positions. Rumors of “orders from the top” to “stand down” and leave protective gear in their cars soon became prevalent. The Mayor and Police Commissioner vehemently denied those claims yet numerous officers and even those in the upper ranks have acknowledged those commands.
Without integrity true leadership cannot exist. The ethical environment of every law enforcement agency is determined by those in command and the Baltimore Police Department is the victim of broken leadership. The men and women who serve behind the badge in Baltimore deserve to be led by a person who has demonstrated the courage of integrity, empathy with the community, and the compassionate application of leadership. It is time for change in Baltimore.
Randy Sutton is a 33 year Law Enforcement veteran and the National Spokesman for ‘THE AMERICAN COUNCIL ON PUBLICE SAFETY”. www.defendingtheshield.org He served ten years in the Princeton New Jersey Police Department and 23 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department retiring at the rank of Lieutenant. He is recognized as one of the most highly decorated officers in the LVMPD history, having awards for Valor, Community Service, Exemplary Service and multiple Lifesaving awards. He has trained thousands of Law Enforcement Officers in the United States on the subject of “POLICING WITH HONOR”, and has been recognized by the President of the United States while receiving the “POINTS OF LIGHT” award. He is the author of “TRUE BLUE Police Stories by Those Who Have Lived Them”, ‘A COP’S LIFE”, “TRUE BLUE To Serve and Protect” and “THE POWER OF LEGACY, Personal Heroes of America’s Most Inspiring People” His web site is www.thepoweroflegacy.com.