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Judge Upholds Mayor’s Curfew Authority While Dismissing Charge

By Justin Fenton The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore circuit judge upheld Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s authority to impose a curfew amid the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, while dismissing a curfew violation charge against an Annapolis man arrested outside City Hall.

Circuit Judge Paul Alpert determined that a curfew was within Rawlings-Blake’s powers as a “conservator of the peace.”

The powers of that title are not clearly defined in the city charter or state law, but City Solicitor George Nilson has said there was “substantial supportive authority” for a conservator of the peace to impose a curfew.

Alpert made the ruling in the case of 25-year-old Andrew Schmidt, who had challenged the curfew charge against him. While the curfew could be imposed, the judge dismissed the charge because he found that there was no established penalty for a curfew violation.

A spokeswoman for the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office said prosecutors had planned to drop the curfew charge. The office said in May that prosecutors would drop cases in which the sole charge was for breaking curfew. Those with additional charges, such as rioting and disorderly conduct, could still face prosecution.

Schmidt was arrested on May 1, the day prosecutors charged six police officers in Gray’s death and amid growing frustration with the curfew. Gray, 25, died a week after suffering spinal cord and other injuries in police custody. All of the officers have pleaded not guilty.

Schmidt also was charged with second-degree assault and resisting arrest for allegedly punching an officer as he was taken into custody. Those charges remain pending, defense attorney Domenic Iamele said.

“It simply didn’t happen,” Iamele said of the assault allegation.

Iamele was among several attorneys, including the Maryland public defender’s office, that challenged whether the mayor had curfew powers. Baltimore Deputy Public Defender Natalie Finegar argued that only Gov. Larry Hogan had the authority to impose a curfew, and the mayor needed City Council approval.

During the riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Gov. Spiro Agnew imposed a citywide curfew at the request of Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro III. The Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, later ruled that once the governor declared a state of emergency, “control over the citizens of Baltimore, in our opinion, lay in the hands of the governor of the state.”

But a curfew imposed in 1979 by Mayor William Donald Schaefer after a massive snowstorm was upheld by a district judge, who found it was part of his powers as a “conservator of the peace.” People arrested for violating that curfew were sent to jail.

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