A video taken earlier this year in Anne Arundel County shows Police Chief Timothy Altomare and State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess subtly demeaning local resident Rev. Marguerite Morris, a Black woman known for her advocacy work. The video recording is from a meeting of The Caucus of African American Leaders of Anne Arundel County. The Caucus had invited Chief Altomare and State’s Attorney Leitess to serve on a panel. Rev. Morris was in the audience.
During a question and answer segment, Convener Carl Snowden acknowledged Rev. Morris by name and asked her to state her question. At the mention of Rev. Morris’ name, Chief Altomare and State’s Attorney Leitess exchanged glances and a wink. I inferred their actions to be an unspoken agreement to disregard Rev. Morris’ concerns.
Their behavior is considered a microinvalidation, which the American Psychological Association has defined as “Communications that subtly exclude, negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person of color.”
Rev. Morris’ Question…
During the discussion, Chief Altomare told the audience if there “is a question about someone’s integrity (a police officer’s integrity) or whether they committed a criminal act,” the commander of Anne Arundel County Police Department (AACOPD) Internal Affairs Section calls Brian Marsh at the Office of the State’s Attorney that day to communicate the complaint.
Rev. Morris asked, “Is the only time the integrity or honesty of an officer in question only if the report comes from internal affairs?” In other words, does the Office of the State’s Attorney accept complaints only from the police department or will the office also accept complaints from the general public and from individuals not associated with the police department?
Chief Altomare followed her question with information that did not seem to answer her question. Instead, he estimated 80 to 85% of officer integrity complaints come from supervisors and other officers, and this seemed to refer to officer integrity complaints made to the AACOPD Internal Affairs Section. Rev. Morris’ question, however, referred to officer integrity complaints reported to the Office of the State’s Attorney, not to the police department.
I am aware of an ongoing problem with some Anne Arundel police officers intentionally inserting false information into their police reports. Chief Altomare has turned a blind eye to this practice, which appears to overwhelmingly target Black residents. The AACOPD Internal Affairs Section has protected the offending officers, and some have accused the Office of the State’s Attorney for Anne Arundel County of doing the same.
The video clip did not clarify whether the Office of the State’s Attorney does anything with the officer integrity complaints other than collect them, but Rev. Morris’ question was not resolved. Can civilians can file officer integrity complaints directly with the Office of the State’s Attorney? If that’s possible, I suspect the community would welcome a tutorial on the process.
Jim Crow Era Death Investigations…
Rev. Morris became a tireless advocate for her deceased daughter in 2012 after police first denied the existence of, then claimed to have deleted, surveillance video of her daughter’s death. Anne Arundel County police quickly labeled the death a suicide despite red flags to the contrary. The police work has been straight out of the Jim Crow code book. Her daughter’s death has never had a legitimate investigation. For eight years, the police department and Office of the State’s Attorney have devalued her concerns and marginalized her as someone they can safely ignore.
The police department has handled other deaths with similar disregard.
Rev. Morris’ work for transparency and civil rights has benefited every individual in Anne Arundel County. She is an organizer for Community Actively Seeking Transparency (CAST), and other local groups. She regularly provides services to victims of domestic violence. She has persisted in her advocacy through implicit and systemic racism and misogyny. She has shown up to support countless civil rights groups, and she has been there for individuals who have come to her in need.
If Rev. Morris has a question, it is important.
I appreciate Rev. Morris’ advocacy and persistence. The demeaning, microaggressive insults and invalidators she has endured amount to harassment. This is part of a pattern of ongoing behavior from Chief Altomare and some white officers under his command. County Executive Steuart Pittman is aware of Altomare’s ongoing, unacceptable behavior but unfortunately has chosen to enable it.
The state’s attorney has also been aware of racially-motivated harassment Rev. Morris has experienced as a result of advocating for herself and her deceased daughter. I hope the state’s attorney will engage in deep reflection regarding her role in the video and the lack of historic and current advocacy by the Office of the State’s Attorney to protect black residents who have been harassed or otherwise harmed in racially motivated attacks by local police. The Office of the State’s Attorney for Anne Arundel County has long operated as a function of a racist, chauvinistic, dysfunctional police department. Anne Colt Leitess can choose to change that.
I call on elected officials to help State’s Attorney Leitess dismantle that system and rebuild the Office of the State’s Attorney as a function of the entire community’s legal needs. When she eventually leaves her position, I hope her legacy will be that of making transformational change to the Office of the State’s Attorney for Anne Arundel County
In closing, Rev. Morris’ daughter’s name was Katherine Sarah Morris, known as Kathy, and the website detailing the many problems with the investigation into her death is ForKathysSake.com.
Questions or comments? See our Facebook post.
Updated June 18, 2020 at 2:37 p.m. to correct a portion of Rev. Morris’ quotation (“AACOPD Internal Affairs Section” corrected to “internal affairs”).
Kristine Lockwood is a life-long Maryland resident. In Anne Arundel County, she has worked to end racial and gender bias in police work and death investigations.