Three Baltimore residents are demanding a public apology from the city’s top prosecutor for media statements he made about their dispute with BGE over gas regulators.
On Tuesday, Maggie Fitzsimmons, Sandy Seward, Claudia Towles, and their supporters and fellow protestors stood on the 400 block of Warren Avenue, the same block on which they were arrested June 22. This time, they were insisting on contrition from Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates.
They were arrested in June during a protest in which they blocked BGE contractors from shutting off gas service to residents in Federal Hill. Prosecutors ultimately agreed to the defendants’ demand that all charges be dropped even before a preliminary hearing was held.
On Friday, Aug. 4, the State’s Attorney’s Office told the three women through their attorney that the charges would be dropped. Later that afternoon, Bates issued a press statement in his own name, which multiple news outlets repeated.
The statement said, “Had they not been arrested, the charges against Magdalena Fitzsimmons, Sandra Seward, and Claudia Towles would have been dismissed through our citation docket program after successfully completing five hours of community service or any other appropriate alternative. Having spent approximately 19 hours in central booking, following their arrests for interfering with BGE’s work and creating a disturbance in a public place, these individuals have sustained consequences we believe are sufficient and allow us to move forward with dismissal.”
The three were “immediately outraged,” according to the press release from Towles, but held off on public condemnation because of the gas regulator case going before the Public Service Commission.
The PSC has now issued its ruling, confirming that BGE was acting illegally in terminating the gas service. This is what the women were protesting when they were arrested.
“This public statement by Mr. Bates assumed and implied that the protesters were in fact guilty but that their punishment to date was adequate. For one thing, his claim that they would have been required to complete 5 hours of community service assumes that the three women would have admitted or been found guilty,” read the press release. “For another, to assert publicly that ‘19 hours in central booking’ was sufficient punishment again assumes they were guilty and deserved any punishment at all. All three had told prosecutors they were innocent, that the evidence was clear that the arrests were unlawful, and that the charges needed to be dropped. And all three had made clear that if the charges were not dropped, they were prepared to proceed to trial.”
“We were ready to go to trial,” Fitzsimmons said. “You can’t surrender to our demand that you drop charges and then go out and publicly condemn us as guilty without a trial.”
“The City’s top prosecutor has told the public that a night in jail was adequate punishment for us for ‘interfering with BGE’s work and creating a disturbance in a public place,’” Towles said. “Ignoring that we are innocent until proven guilty, Ivan Bates made himself judge and jury. He owes us and our fellow protestors an immediate and public apology.”
“What Ivan Bates has done is improper and unprofessional,” Seward said. “Him pretending he was with us all along now that the political winds are blowing in the other direction is as calculated as it is transparent. Back when we needed him to just do the right thing, he was publicly bashing us as criminals who’d done enough time.”
Towles told Baltimore Fishbowl that since making this public statement on Tuesday, they have not heard anything from Attorney Bates.
“He implied, if not flat out said, that we had done something unlawful, which we continue to believe we have not. In fact, we brought light BGE’s unlawful behavior, which has been ratified by the PSC,” Towles said.
Towles added, “For folks who are supposed to be working on our behalf, to be doing quite the opposite, and criminalizing our behavior through their statements when we were ready to go to trial … we’re outraged.”
State’s Attorney Bates did not respond to requests from Baltimore Fishbowl for comment.