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Butler vows to reform state police; committee delays confirmation vote


Butler vows to reform state police; committee delays confirmation vote

Mar 27, 2023 | 10:53 pm ET
By Bryan P. Sears
Butler vows to reform state police; committee delays confirmation vote
Retired Lt. Col. Roland Butler (center) before his confirmation hearing as a nominee to be the next superintendent of the Maryland State Police. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

The confirmation of a historic nominee to lead the Maryland State Police remains in limbo after nearly an hour of testimony before the Senate Executive Nominations Committee. 

Retired Lt. Col. Roland Butler’s testimony before the committee was the culmination of three weeks of effort to shore up his faltering nomination. If confirmed, he would become the first Black man to lead the Maryland State Police. 

For more than a month, Butler has been the subject of criticism related to his career at the state police agency. A number of Black senators blamed Butler, who was in a position of leadership within the agency, for failing to do enough about complaints of racism and disparate treatment of Black officers when it came to promotions and discipline. 

The agency is also the subject of a class-action lawsuit filed in October by three troopers against the department citing a pattern of widespread racial discrimination.

Three months earlier, the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into discriminatory practices within the agency.

At times during the hearing, Butler met those criticisms head on. 

Butler vows to reform state police; committee delays confirmation vote
Retired Lt. Col. Roland Butler addresses the Senate Executive Nominations Committee. Gov. Wes Moore (D) nominated Butler to be next superintendent of the Maryland State Police. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

“I’ve seen a lot of things good and bad,” Butler told the committee. “Everything that we’ve seen in the media, as a bureau chief I’m responsible for win, lose or draw or whether I knew or not, those are people under my charge. If I want to help celebrate their successes, I have to deal with the shortcomings. They fall back on me to build the best team and the best mousetrap as effectively that I can to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.” 

Butler was accompanied by a cadre of current and former law enforcement leaders from around Maryland including Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison. 

Committee members were also given more than two dozen letters written in support of Butler. 

Included in the packet, however, were also dozens of letters of criticism of Butler. 

Senate Executive Nominations Vice Chair Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City) described some of the letters as “substantive” and others “laughable.” 

It was during that exchange with Hayes that Butler was asked about complaints arising from his time leading the Forestville Barracks. Nine troopers initially signed a letter of complaint against Butler. 

Butler pushed back, describing a workplace with sinking morale and lax discipline. 

“The ringleader in the whole thing was found to be leaving work early, effectively stealing time,” Butler said, adding he had to “draw a line in the sand.” 

“The investigation or the inquiry was done by the Office of Fair Practices, not only for me, but for my boss at the time,” said Butler. “There was no wrongdoing uncovered. They simply found that we were addressing issues that were left to linger out there for quite some time. And it reached the point where people basically had a free for all.” 

For the last three weeks, Moore’s team sought to save Butler’s flagging nomination. 

Butler himself met individually with senators and he also joined Moore in a meeting last week with members of the Coalition of Black Maryland State Troopers — a group critical of Butler’s nomination. 

“I appreciate the rich communication on both sides, from our supporters and my dissenters,” Butler said of the association and the more than 90-minute meeting on Friday. “Everyone has something to offer in this conversation. Just like we talked about national law enforcement reform, I will have to reform to lead the Maryland State Police, and I look forward to working with everyone who has a stake in this, be it the troopers association, the coalition, the troopers, lawmakers, community members, we all have a role to play in this.” 

Ultimately, the committee opted to hold off on a vote to recommend Butler’s confirmation to the full Senate. The committee is not likely to take up that vote before Wednesday. 

Before then, the Democratic Caucus is expected to meet Tuesday. Butler’s nomination again is expected to dominate the discussion. 

“I think there’s still questions,” said Senate Executive Nominations Chair Sen. Pamela G. Beidle (D-Anne Arundel). 

When asked how much of the caucus meeting would be about Butler, Beidle responded: “Probably a lot of it.” 

Beidle said she planned to support Butler and believed he had “a great deal of support” within the committee. That support in committee, she said, was representative of the full Senate. 

Even so, she hedged on whether Butler had the votes to be confirmed. 

“I think this [committee] is a good reflection of the floor. I mean, there’s 19 of us, a good mix of both parties so, I think it’s a good reflection,” she said. “But I couldn’t tell you tonight if he’d had the votes if we’d call for the vote tonight. I don’t know if he had them. We’ll have to see what happens.” 

Hayes, the vice chair, said Butler won him over with his appearance . 

“I think he did a fair job of answering questions,” said Hayes, who acknowledged Butler didn’t answer all of the committee’s questions. 

“Oh, there’s absolutely some questions among my colleagues. Definitely,” said Hayes.