Bail review hearings are one step in a criminal ‘justice’ system that feeds on the destruction of human beings. During a bail review, a legally innocent person accused of one or more crimes is petitioning the court to not be caged while awaiting their trial. The hearing may last a mere five or 10 minutes, but the outcome impacts people’s lives for much longer. People have routinely lost jobs, housing, income, and custody of their children while awaiting trial.
By law, judges are supposed to consider two factors in these hearings: flight risk (will you show up to court?) and public safety (are you too dangerous to be uncaged?). The primary evidence in these hearings is information given by police to the State’s Attorney’s Office in what’s called a statement of probable cause. These are narratives written by a cop involved in the arrest which detail what happened to give them probable cause and reason to arrest the accused. There is no contesting these narratives, as the standard in these hearings is that the charges and SOPC are to be taken in a “light most favorable to the State.” To put it plainly, officers of the Baltimore Police Department — an institution with a history of falsifying records, which is currently under federal oversight for violating the constitutional rights of Black residents in Baltimore — are considered the most reliable source for information in a bail review.
Take the case of BPD Detective Robert Hankard, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison for falsifying search warrants and arrest reports, falsely testifying to a federal grand jury, and planting a BB gun on a suspect. Statements of probable cause, the documents judges rely on at bail reviews, were among the documents Hankard falsified.
The Justice Department’s own report, launched after the killing of Freddie Gray, documented clear violations of civil rights by the Baltimore Police Department. Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby keeps a list of approximately 300 BPD officers whom her office maintains have credibility issues.
In February, observers from Baltimore Courtwatch observed a case in which cops alleged to have observed the accused posing with and firing a gun on Instagram. In a resulting search, a gun — registered legally to another person who lived in the house — was found safely stored and unloaded in a safe. Judge Charles Peters ordered the person be held in a cage, in part based on the word of the police that this gun they observed on Instagram was, in fact, the same gun. No information was presented to explain how this could be discerned from a picture.
In November 2021, our observers heard a case where a person was being held on murder charges entirely based on social media images that showed them wearing similar clothing to a CCTV video of a robbery and shooting. Baltimore police had not identified or spoken to anyone regarding this claim. The cops apparently believed it was possible to look at a picture of someone in common clothing and identify that these were identical clothes. This case was placed on the stet docket seven months later, meaning the charges are not being pursued currently.
A few months later, in a case strikingly similar to the one above, the state asked for a young person to be held without bond awaiting trial for murder, offering up as evidence the fact that the young man had a picture on his Instagram in which he was wearing items of clothing manufactured by an extremely popular brand — clothing which appeared similar to what they had seen on someone in video footage recorded at the scene of the shooting. There were three shooters recorded on video, all of whom were wearing the same color from head to toe. The video was blurry, making it difficult to identify suspects by race. The Instagram post they used to dubiously connect the young man to this incident wasn’t even dated the same day as the shooting. The judge sided with the state and held the young man in jail. The case still hasn’t gone to trial.
In October 2021, Judge Robert Taylor placed a young man on home detention, cautioning him against using social media because cops monitor everyone’s Instagram accounts. Specifically, he was aware of cops tricking young men into allowing them to follow their private accounts by disguising themselves as “pretty girls.” In other words, cops are catfishing young men.
The criminal legal system relies on cops to shape narratives even in the early stages of court proceedings, endangering the lives of thousands in the city, most of them young Black men and boys.