The relationship and deception behind Baltimore’s $8M police consent decree

Last November, as Mayor Brandon Scott prepared to announce his former chief of staff as the city’s new top attorney, the head of the Baltimore Police Department’s consent decree monitoring team quietly notified the federal court of a familial relationship.

Ebony Thompson, Scott’s choice foracting city solicitor, is the great-niece of Ken Thompson, the head of the independent group responsible for measuring the police department’s compliance with reforms.

Though Ken Thompson and city officials saw the relationship as significant enough to disclose to the judge overseeing the decree, they never made it public. The move to appoint Ebony Thompson came five years after Venable LLP, her former employer and the largest law firm in Maryland, was chosen to lead the monitoring team. That decision was made despite community objections that the firm, a mainstay of Baltimore politics, would not be an impartial monitor because it had done legal work for the city.

Venable’s selection surprised community activists, and even insiders. Then-Mayor Catherine Pugh initially picked a different group for the role, but she was ultimately swayed by a last-minute push for Venable that was promoted by the federal judge overseeing the consent decree, according to an email reviewed by The Baltimore Banner and several people with direct knowledge of the selection process.

Venable did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In a cash-strapped city, monitoring the consent decree has come at a significant cost. Through January of this year, the monitoring team has billed the city nearly $8 million, with $1.3 million of that total billed to Venable by Ken Thompson.

Though it came to fruition several years later, the Thompsons’ relationship underscores those community concerns expressed in 2017 over the independence of Venable and its ties to City Hall. And, while city officials said the Thompsons’ relationship doesn’t violate their ethics codes, legal experts who study consent decrees found it odd and problematic.

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