Venable partner Kenneth Thompson has secured court approval to serve as independent monitor of the Baltimore Police Department under a wide-ranging U.S. Department of Justice consent decree calling for a series of reforms in the city’s stop, search and arrest practices.
U.S. District Judge James Bredar of the District of Maryland signed off on Thompson’s appointment in an order made public on Tuesday. The judge’s order formalizes the Venable partner’s selection as monitor under a consent decree that stemmed from a DOJ investigation launched in the wake of Freddie Gray’s 2015 death from injuries suffered while in Baltimore police custody. The Baltimore Sun first reported Bredar’s approval of Thompson in the monitoring role.
In the monitor role, Thompson, an experienced trial lawyer, will be tasked with overseeing a set of reforms suggested in the DOJ consent decree, which the federal government and city of Baltimore agreed to in January. The decree cited a DOJ investigation that found shortcomings in the Baltimore police department’s stop, search and arrest practices, including racial disparities in how those practices affected African-Americans, as well as incidents of excessive police force. The agreement called for an independent monitor to ensure the city complies with the reforms in those areas for at least three years, and the city agreed to set aside up to $1.475 million per year to pay for the monitoring team’s work.
“The proposed monitor, Mr. Thompson, satisfies one of the most important criteria: he is a native Baltimorean with deep ties to a wide swath of the Baltimore community. Mr. Thompson is a seasoned litigator who understands well the role of the monitor and can ably navigate the many challenges, legal and otherwise, sure to arise during the life of the consent decree,” Bredar wrote. “Although Mr. Thompson does not have any prior monitoring experience, he has taken what could be perceived as a weakness and turned it into a strength by surrounding himself with an excellent team.”
Thompson’s appointment comes after a public selection process that allowed for members of the Baltimore community to weigh in with public comments and question potential monitoring teams at open city meetings. Referencing that public input in his order, Bredar wrote that the “monitor and team ultimately selected by the parties are stronger as a result of the community’s engagement in the process.”
A Venable spokeswoman said in an email Tuesday that the firm has no comment on the appointment.
The American Lawyer previously reported that Venable was one of the finalists vying for the police monitoring role in Baltimore. Although the position initially drew a spate of applicants—including law firms Barnes & Thornburg, Buckley Sandler, DLA Piper and Gallagher Evelius & Jones—Venable was the only law firm among a winnowed-down list of four finalists that also included a team from the regulatory compliance companies Exiger LLC and 21st Century Policing LLC, as well as a nonprofit research and analysis organization and a consultant.
Under Bredar’s order, Thompson will lead a monitoring team that combines the proposed Venable team with the proposed team from Exiger and 21st Century Policing along with partners from a local community organization, the Baltimore Community Mediation Center.
The court appointed Charles Ramsey—a former Philadelphia police commissioner and co-chair of an Obama administration task force on 21st century policing—as the principal deputy monitor. There are also three other deputy monitors, including Venable partner Seth Rosenthal, a former federal prosecutor in the DOJ’s civil rights division; Theron Bowman, a deputy city manager in Arlington, Texas, and former longtime Arlington police chief; and Hassan Aden, a former police chief in Greenville, North Carolina.
With its selection for the police monitor role in Baltimore, Venable joins law firms that have taken similar roles in other cities, including Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, which in August signed on for an additional three years as an independent monitor of the New Orleans Police Department. Sheppard Mullin has served in that role since 2013. Under the recent three-year extension, a federal judge put a $6.4 million cap on additional monitoring fees; as of August, New Orleans had reportedly paid about $7 million in connection with the police monitoring efforts there.