Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recently testified before the Maryland House Appropriations Committee about police misconduct to point out how difficult it can be to fire bad cops. She met with some resistance from police unions and a few state representatives. One state delegate in particular stood out.

Del. Michael A. Jackson, a former Prince George’s County sheriff, said he had not had any difficulty in removing bad personnel under the existing system. The Prince George’s Democrat contended that officers accused of wrongdoing actually have fewer constitutional rights than other citizens, who are not required to speak to authorities if charged.

This is a slight misstatement of the law. Cops also aren’t required to speak to authorities in the context of a criminal investigation. In some cases, in some jurisdictions, they can be required to cooperate in internal investigation into possible violations of police agency policy. But if a cop is suspected of committing a crime, he doesn’t lose his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination because he wears a badge. In fact, cops often get advantages regular citizens don’t. They can get free legal representation from the police union, for example. Some jurisdictions give officers in use-of-force/shooting cases a “cooling off period,” during which they can’t be questioned. (A more cynical observer might call it a “get your stories straight period.”)

But I want to focus on Jackson in particular. It’s unfortunate to see him now opining on and making public policy on policing issues as legislator. Because Jackson was a pretty awful sheriff. (If this were D.C., we’d call it “failing upward.”) Here’s a post I wrote about Jackson in 2009.

Last month, a jury in Prince George’s County, Maryland awarded Kimberly Jones $260,000 in a civil rights suit. In 2006, sheriff’s deputies from the county had forced their way into Jones’ home, blasted her with pepper spray, beat her with batons, punched her in the face, then arrested her for assaulting a police officer. Though the charge resulted in Jones being fired from her job at a shelter for homeless children, it was later dropped. Reason? The cops had the wrong house.
In the ensuing civil case, the jury determined that the deputies were well within the protocols of the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Department. It was the department’s guidelines that the jury found unconstitutional.

The man who oversaw those policies? Michael Jackson. His policies took victims all over Prince George’s County. It didn’t seem to matter if they were black or white*.

Rawlings-Blake was testifying after a Baltimore Sun investigation discovered that Baltimore City had paid out more than $6 million to settle police brutality lawsuits since 2011. But from 2000 to 2006, Prince George’s County paid out more than $16 million. Jackson took office in 2002. More from his tenure:

A year after the wrong-door assault on Jones, Jackson’s deputies conducted another botched raid, this time on Accokeek couple Pam and Frank Myers. The two were home watching TV when the deputies came into their home and held them at gunpoint. The police were looking for a man wanted on drugs and weapons charges. They had the wrong house. The correct house was clearly marked, two doors down. During the raid, one of the deputies went out into the Myers’ backyard, despite warnings from the couple that their five-year-old boxer Pearl was outside. The raid team shot Pearl dead. According to the Myers’, the deputies left without even an apology.
Jackson’s department is also facing a lawsuit stemming from a May 2007 warrantless raid on the home of Upper Marlboro resident Amber James. They were looking for James’ sister, who didn’t live at the house. According to the lawsuit, the deputies told James they’d be back the next day, and when they returned, they’d kill her dog.

But the most embarrassing raid conducted under Jackson’s watch came in 2008.

In 2008, Jackson’s department made international news when deputies raided the home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo. The police had intercepted a package of marijuana addressed to Calvo’s home. When Calvo’s mother-in-law brought the package into the house, Sheriff Jackson’s SWAT team pounced, sending heavily-armed agents into Calvo’s home, where they shot and killed his two black labs, then detained Calvo and his mother in law in handcuffs for several hours. Calvo and his family were later cleared of any wrongdoing. The package was part of a drug distribution scheme that included accomplices working for shipping companies.
As noted above, the mistaken raid on Calvo’s home wasn’t an isolated mistake. It was also completely avoidable. Jackson’s deputies didn’t bother contacting the local Berwyn Heights police chief, who would have notified them that they were about to raid the town’s mayor—who, by the way, wasn’t a drug dealer. They also failed to consult other police agencies in the area, who could have informed them of an ongoing investigation into a drug distribution scheme in which drug dealers’ accomplices working for shipping companies intercepted drug packages before they were delivered to addresses picked at random.
In his dogged efforts to determine the extent to which these sorts of tactics are used, Mayor Calvo has since found that aggressive SWAT raids are the preferred method of serving warrants in Prince George’s County, not a tactic of last resort. The killing of dogs in the course of these raids is nearly an unspoken policy. As Calvo wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed, “In the words of Prince George’s County Sheriff Michael Jackson, whose deputies carried out the [raid on Calvo’s home], ‘the guys did what they were supposed to do’—acknowledging, almost as an afterthought, that terrorizing innocent citizens in Prince George’s is standard fare.”

It gets worse. Jackson’s department first said the raid on Calvo’s home was not a no-knock raid, because, they claimed, no-knock raids are prohibited in Maryland. In fact, he had failed to remember the time* the state legislature passed a law that explicitly allowed them in 2005. Jackson and his department were ignorant of a recently passed law that directly pertained to police operations. That seems like a pretty incredible oversight for the sheriff of the second most populous county in the state.

A year later, an internal investigation conducted by Jackson’s department cleared his own deputies of any wrongdoing. At a news conference announcing the findings, Jackson was rather callous about the fact that his cops had just terrorized and nearly killed an innocent mayor and his mother-in-law.

“My deputies did their job to the fullest extent of their abilities.” In deflecting blame from his own department Jackson added, “I’m sorry for the loss of [the Calvos’] family pets. But this is the unfortunate result of the scourge of drugs in our community . . . In the sense that we kept these drugs from reaching our streets, this operation was a success.”

Thanks to Jackson’s leadership, that off-the-wall* first sentence may actually be accurate, just not in the way Jackson intended. Of course, there’s nothing unusual about a public official refusing to cop to his mistakes. It’s just human nature*. (A critic might tell Jackson, “You are not alone.”*)

In 2009 and 2010, Jackson ran for Prince George’s County executive. During that campaign, he was asked about the raid on Calvo’s home. His response? “Quite frankly, we’d do it again. Tonight.” Which is to say that even knowing now that Calvo was innocent, that his dogs were needlessly slaughtered, that Calvo and his mother-in-law were held at gunpoint for hours, and that if Calvo had been a legal gun owner he’d probably be dead, Jackson wouldn’t have changed a thing. Nobody violated any policies. So it’s all good.

Jackson lost the election for county executive. (You might say voters told him to beat it.*) But politicians never can say goodbye* to power. Jackson won a subsequent election to the state legislature. That’s unfortunate, but that’s democracy. (Don’t be surprised if he runs for higher office. He seems unable to stop until he gets enough.*) At the very least, we can hope his fellow lawmakers would take a couple of heaping servings of salt when Jackson attempts to portray himself as an authority on law enforcement matters by invoking his record as sheriff. That record is bad*. Better yet, given his record, his opposition to a proposed policing-related law is probably a good indication that they should support it.

(*I apologize.)