Military and Police

Baltimore Civilian Oversight Task Force Chairman Begs for Arrest During Traffic Stop

People in high places never cease to amaze and befuddle. One particular police overseer urged a Baltimore city police officer to take him to jail stemming from an innocuous traffic infraction which he felt was not “probable cause” for a stop. The overseer in question is not a law enforcement official but, instead, occupies a civilian position appointed by Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh. Pursuant to its federally-imposed consent decree, Baltimore was mandated to convene what it calls a Civilian Oversight Task Force comprised of nine city residents whose purpose is to weigh community relations and confer with subject matter experts on urban operations, to include law enforcement.

As with any committee seeking to better a political platform, a sovereign jurisdiction, a private company, or a program for cub scouts…members convening to analyze any considerations ought to at least know what they are talking about, right?

On April 13, 2018 a Baltimore police sergeant conducted a traffic stop regarding a car whose driver was parked, sitting idle in the public street, impeding the flow of traffic. In police parlance, that is also known as “obstructing traffic.” Those words are not confusing whatsoever. Well, at least one would think there is no ambiguity in those few self-explanatory vowels and consonants.

The person behind the wheel at that time and in violation of Baltimore traffic code was Marvin McKenstry, Jr., chairman of the Civilian Oversight Task Force (COTF).

Marvin McKenstry, Jr., now-former chairman of Baltimore’s Civilian Oversight Task Force(Credit: City of Baltimore’s Civilian Oversight Task Force)

Excerpted from the COTF site, “Marvin McKenstry Jr. is a native Baltimorean, father, Minister and Community Activist” who is “A product of being granted a second chance himself after dropping out of high school and many encounters with the law and incarceration starting at age 12… Mr. McKenstry’s most important role is an Associate Minister at the Victory House of Worship Church in West Baltimore. Currently, Marvin serves as a consultant on Urban Policing to the Baltimore City Police Department [emphasis added].”

There is no indication that Mr. McKenstry ever served as a law enforcement officer or, shy of serving, graduated from a police academy. But Baltimore police Sergeant Terrence McGowan achieved both of those and dutifully enforced traffic codes.

In the telling, Sergeant McGowan admits he simply pulled-up behind McKenstry’s automobile and sounded his police car air-horn, signaling for him to move along. McKenstry shook his head No then reportedly motioned for Sgt. McGowan to drive around him and into oncoming lanes. The whole police purpose was to unclog road blockage, not circumvent it. Faced with Mr. McKenstry’s obstinance and refusal to play by the law book, Sergeant McGowan effected a traffic stop. It went off the rails from there.

Seemingly contentious and non-compliant with lawful orders from a bona fide policeman, back-up was requested. In a case such as this, potential arrest is now in the cards. That was definitely punctuated when, eventually, McKenstry repeatedly refuses to sign the citations. In my police career, it was 1-2-3 and done. One, I ask for the traffic violator’s signature. Two, absent compliance as stipulated by law, I explain that refusing to do so is an arrestable offense. Three, if still refusing, handcuffs are applied. You know the rest of the routine.

As the policeman conducted the traffic stop approximating at least 27 requests for the driver’s license, Mr. McKenstry plays hardball with an otherwise minor traffic-flow matter. Endemic in traffic investigations (a traffic stop), vehicle registration is required by law in every state. When Sergeant McGowan asked to see the vehicle registration, yet another lawful order, without even looking Mr. McKenstry said that he didn’t have it. More arrogance and obstruction from that self-professed “consultant on urban policing.”

Albeit a bit snarky and sounding frustrated in some of his demeanor, Sergeant McGowan clearly knew his business and state laws. For his role, Mr. McKenstry knew as much as a Facebook lawyer and, at two points, begged to be arrested. He even assumed the position against his roadway-blocking vehicle.

Mayor Catherine Pugh, who appointed McKenstry to the oversight panel, called it a “teachable moment.” That is the same mayor who recently hired Baltimore’s 40th police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa who, on May 10, 2018 was charged with three counts of “failing to file federal taxes” three years in a row. So much for background checks for the big dogs. You can read about that ongoing saga on OpsLens.

At this point I am sure you wish to see for yourself what we’ve been discussing, and I aim to deliver the footage:

Traffic stop

The chair of a Baltimore police oversight panel clashed with officer during traffic stop after a hearing on the consent decree, in an incident captured on body camera video.

Posted by The Baltimore Sun on Friday, May 4, 2018

Like a newly-licensed teen, Mr. McKenstry tries to draw in his political connections, requesting for his colleague to “call Ed.” Ed happens to be retired Baltimore police colonel Ed Jackson who was recently rehired and serves as Inspector General overseeing the Office of Constitutional and Impartial Policing.

At one point, McKenstry calls someone on his cell phone and says “Thank you, colonel. Okay…you can call me back on my cell phone.” Presumably, he either has someone working at the Pentagon on the phone, or he is conversing with a tenured Baltimore PD police colonel involved in the consent decree. Wanna guess which?

Now that we’ve established who Ed is, did he place calls to “connections” so that the police can hear and maybe show some reverence while backing away from the stop? Who knows. But it sure does make one wonder whose team the players are on and how the entire Baltimore game may remain in rain delay.

Whereas traffic stops generally take around 10 minutes in entirety, this one took the equivalent of a full-on lunch break. According to the Baltimore Sunthis entire traffic stop consumed 50 minutes and equated to five citations totaling $500. in fines.

Pursuant to Baltimore’s federal consent decree, city cops are required to issue a “contact sheet” to pretty much anyone with whom police contact was officiated. This “contact sheet” transaction occurred at the end of the traffic infraction and its bizarre display. Again, detection of a this-is-what-policing-has-come-to tone is present in the officer’s exasperated yet controlled voice. Frankly, it comes off as an overly rehearsed script. What does that tell you?

I have been following this roadway ordeal, waiting to see if/how it would resolve. Mr. McKenstry claims he addressed his citations with the Courts. He also professes three years in-the-making to achieve his seat with the Civilian Oversight Task Force was quashed because of his demeanor during the traffic infraction. Did he let his stature go to his head? Had he allowed his position of power to override decorum and civility? Simply lose his cool?

As he puts it in after-the-fact terms, Mr. McKenstry said he would not act the same way again if like circumstances presented. Seemingly recognizing how awry the entire incident went, McKenstry said, “I do recognize there was another course of action I could’ve taken.” Although he stepped-down from chairmanship over the Civilian Oversight Task Force on May 7, 2018, he remains a participant among the committee members.

In a cloaked eye-poke, an unidentified “white member of the task force” reportedly told McKenstry that if he were white, the traffic stop would have gone a completely different way. Among the four Caucasian task force members, no reporting entity I came across revealed who that “white member” is. Nevertheless, that sounds like prejudice within a civilian, mayor-appointed body with axes to grind. Where is the objectivity in that context? How can growth evolve with promises made while fingers are crossed behind backs?

This is one of a growing number of police body-cam recordings exhibiting confrontations between police/citizens irrefutably exemplifying how easy the smallest nuance becomes a needless firestorm. By the way, does it appear an available, legal, curbside parking space was right there and vacant?

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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