After delivering remarks on U.S. immigration policy today in Baltimore, Attorney General Jeff Sessions shared his thoughts on local sanctuary-like protections for jailed immigrants, police misconduct and the still-unsolved murder case of veteran homicide detective Sean Suiter.
Sessions and newly installed Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen held a joint presser at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland downtown, mostly concerning border and immigration policy and recent efforts targeting the multi-national gang MS-13. Sessions bounced between discussing gangs, terrorism and violent crime, while Nielsen generally stuck to her script of qualms about past immigration-policy failures and recent enforcement.
When the time came for questions, several local reporters got to ask the Alabama-bred prosecutor about Baltimore matters. One question concerned whether the FBI will accept the Baltimore Police Department’s invitation to take over the murder investigation of Sean Suiter, a veteran detective killed nearly a month ago with his own gun in a Harlem Park vacant lot. Under pressure from lawmakers, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis penned a letter to the FBI’s director on Dec. 1. Police still haven’t received a response.
“We are always willing to cooperate as well as we can,” Sessions responded. “I’m sure the FBI will be considering that request, and will probably be able to act on it.”
Asked whether the Justice Department stands by its decision to label Baltimore a sanctuary city, Sessions veered off. The DOJ has withheld crime-fighting funding for that reason, despite the fact that the state, not the city, operates Baltimore’s jail and therefore sets detention policies.
Sessions’ staff have pressed city police to work with federal immigration agents by notifying them when an undocumented inmate is about to be released. Anne Arundel, Harford and Frederick counties have all reached such partnerships with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, while Baltimore County and Howard County officials have denounced them. City police have also taken a stance against it, with Davis arguing ICE raids are hurting police-community relations.
“They’ve declared it so,” Sessions said of Baltimore’s sanctuary status, before murmuring a bit. “I see no justification whatsoever for any city, any jurisdiction, any state to take the view that someone who enters the country illegally and then commits some other crime should be protected from the federal law to be deported.”
The attorney general brought up Baltimore’s problem with violent crime early on. “Baltimore has a higher murder rate and a higher violent crime rate than Chicago, with less than a quarter of the population,” he tucked into his speech.
“The crime rate should not have increased here at the rate that it has,” he added during the Q&A segment, aptly attributing the two-year spike to the fallout of Freddie Gray’s death in police custody. However, he also downplayed the justification for public mistrust of a department embroiled in a corruption scandal.
“We’ve got to be very careful when we have a problem in a police department, that we target the people who did wrong, but not the main morale and the quality and the integrity of the entire department.”
He did throw Baltimore’s masses a small sympathetic bone, expressing regret about Freddie Gray’s death in police custody. “I am so hopeful that we can learn from that mistake and in the future do a better job of protecting the public safety of, often, the poorest of people in our cities.”