Public defender asks private lawyers to help represent hundreds arrested in Baltimore
Updated: Overwhelmed by the arrest of more than 200 people in Baltimore after protests and riots over the death of a man injured in police custody, the state’s public defender is asking private attorneys to step in to help represent those being held.
“We’re seeking volunteer attorneys from the private bar,” Paul DeWolfe told the Daily Record, noting that his office may also pay private lawyers at a $50-per-hour rate.
It is important that bail not be set at amounts that those arrested can’t afford, he said. “This is a poor community. Putting high bonds on those who cannot afford even nominal bonds sends the wrong message—that if you have money you get released—and may fan the flames of frustration.”
However, concerned about public safety, judges set high bail amounts, such as $100,000 for a man accused of trying to steal 132 bottles of vodka. A defendant whose lawyer says he was walking home when he was engulfed by rioting and arrested outside a shoe store had his bail set at $10,000, reports the Baltimore Sun.
“The bails that we’re hearing about now are out-of-the ordinary,” DeWolf told the Sun. “Some of these people are children. Some were just picked up on the street. It’s not been proven that they were guilty of anything.”
Also slowing the hearing process was the fact that the city’s courts were closed on Tuesday, reports the Baltimore Sun. Not all of the 235 people waiting to be processed Tuesday were arrested in connection with the riots, deputy public defender Natalie Finegar told the Sun, but the additional arrests and the court closings were putting strain on the system.
After consulting with the state’s attorney general, Republican Governor Larry Hogan signed an order Tuesday to give the police 48 hours to file charges instead of the 24 allowed by state law, reports the Sun. But nearly half of those arrested and jailed were simply let go on Wednesday, as police struggled to deal with mass arrests and had difficulty documenting potential charges against them.
Among those released Wednesday was Kentroy Lyde, 23, a married father of four. He said he was arrested and thrown to the ground as he walking on a public street Monday night, but was never charged or given a court hearing, the Sun reports. Police took his keys, money, cellphone and wedding ring and have not returned them, he said.
A City Paper article includes further information about conditions in which arrestees say they were held.
“It looks like a lot of folks were just flat-out illegally detained, from our perspective,” Finegar told the Los Angeles Times after 101 people were released on Wednesday night without being charged. “We’re watching folks come out with medical issues who have been denied medical care. We’re hearing 15 women being held in a cell that only seats eight. They haven’t been able to be in touch with their families or their employers. Some of them may have lost their jobs.”
Police Commissioner Anthony Batts told the Times that they may file formal charges at a later date against some of the people who were released. “We’re not giving up on them, we’re just going to follow up,” he said.
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Updated on April 30 to include new information and additional coverage from the Baltimore Sun, City Paper and Los Angeles Times.