Maryland Attorney General's Office clashes with Harford County sheriff over investigation after deputies shoot and kill man




  • In US
  • 2022-04-25 04:01:00Z
  • By The Aegis, Bel Air, Md.

Apr. 25-Frictions between the Republican Harford County sheriff and state's Democratic attorney general flared this weekend over the investigation into the death of a man who was shot and killed by deputies Saturday afternoon in a Forest Hill shopping center.

The Harford County Sheriff's Office on Sunday identified the man, who they said was carrying a gun, as 53-year-old John Raymond Fauver of Whiteford in northern Harford County.

The Maryland Attorney General's Office, which is tasked with investigating civilian deaths involving police officers under a state law passed in 2021, clashed with Sheriff Jeff Gahler about access to evidence and the scene as well as who investigates such incidents.

The sheriff's office said it received reports just before 3 p.m. Saturday about Fauver, who was "reportedly suicidal" and believed to be armed with a long gun.

Deputies made contact with him by phone then located him behind a CVS store. Around 4 p.m., the deputies fired their guns at Fauver, and he was transported to a hospital, where he died.

Efforts to reach Fauver's family on Sunday were not successful.

Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler said two deputies, who he declined to identify, were placed on administrative leave after the incident.

After the shooting Saturday, Raquel Coombs, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office said the Harford County Sheriff's Office was refusing to allow state police investigators to collect evidence at the scene.

After the law passed, the county sheriff's office developed its own policy for how to respond to a deputy-involved death, which includes having local law enforcement collect evidence on the ground.

Gahler said Sunday that state investigators have had "complete, unfettered access to the entire investigation." Their investigation is narrow in scope, he said, because it is limited to the deputies' conduct. The Harford County Sheriff's Office, meanwhile, must investigate any potential criminal activity leading up to the shooting and conduct its own administrative review, he said.

But Coombs said Sunday that the attorney general's Independent Investigations Division isn't being given what it wants. She said there is body camera, dashboard camera and cell phone camera footage of the incident. While investigators from the attorney general's office have been permitted to review the footage at the sheriff's office, they have not received their own copies, Coombs said.

The attorney general's independent investigations division generally releases footage of incidents within 14 days.

Cristie Hopkins, spokeswoman for the Harford County Sheriff's Office, said in a statement that the state requested that footage Sunday and "decisions to release will be made in conjunction with the Harford County State's Attorney."

Coombs said her office takes issue with sheriff office's approach.

"It's not their permission to give," she said, adding that the office is "exploring all of our legal options within state law to force Harford County to follow the law."

Gahler said he offered Saturday to allow a state trooper to accompany his forensic personnel while they recovered evidence from the scene, but the state declined. He also said the attorney general's interpretation of the new state law "cuts the citizens out of the process" by placing state investigators in charge of the evidence.

The sheriff's and attorney general's offices have been disagreeing about the law for months. In letters exchanged between August and December, the two offices repeatedly clashed over the intent of the state law.

In a letter dated Nov. 16, attorney David M. Wyand, who was representing the sheriff, took issue with the attorney general's assertion that the state's investigation into civilian deaths involving police officers is to be the primary investigation.

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"That does not mean that HCSO will not also conduct an investigation," wrote Wyand, referring to the Harford County Sheriff's Office. "The [independent investigations division] will have the full cooperation of the HCSO (including full access), but HSCO will not stand down or cede its own responsibility to investigate."

That's because police shootings often involve possible crimes committed by civilians that must be investigated, Wyand wrote.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh fired back in a letter, saying that his office should be the primary investigator of police conduct in civilian deaths and local law enforcement agencies should be the primary investigator of non-officer-involved conduct.

"Having two offices conduct competing criminal investigations of the same individual's conduct is both poor practice and logistically impossible," Frosh wrote. "There is one gun, one set of fingerprints, one bloodstain, etc."

Frosh, a Democrat, cited the legislature's rejection in 2021 of an amendment proposed by Gahler, a Republican, that would have called for "parallel and collaborative" investigations.

"You may not declare by fiat a structure that the legislature clearly rejected," Frosh wrote.

In a Dec. 28 letter, Wyand wrote that the exchange of letters had "run its course" and Gahler had issued his own policy for police-involved deaths.

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