• Maryland Court of Special Appeals finds that Baltimore City Police Department’s Termination of an Officer for Marrying a Prison Gang Member was Constitutional
  • September 10, 2013
  • Law Firm: Semmes Bowen Semmes A Professional Corporation - Baltimore Office
  • Cross v. Baltimore City Police Department, No. 1290 (Md. App. Sept. 3, 2012)

    In Cross v. Baltimore City Police Department, Maryland’s intermediate appellate court held that a police officer’s right to marry and intimately associate was not infringed upon when she was terminated for marrying a prison gang member. Writing for the Court of Special Appeals, Judge Zarnoch found that a General Order issued by the Baltimore City Police Department (“Department”), which prohibited officers from associating with those of “questionable character,” was reasonably related to the Department’s legitimate interests in fostering the public’s confidence, maintaining discipline, and ensuring employee safety. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the decision of the Circuit Court of Baltimore City, finding that the officer’s termination was constitutional.

    Meredith Cross was a Baltimore City police officer from 2004 to 2010. During that time, Mrs. Cross became romantically involved with Carlito Cabana, a convicted murderer and member of the prison gang, Dead Man, Inc. (“DMI”). In 2009, Mrs. Cross and Mr. Cabana were married. Shortly thereafter, the Department served Mrs. Cross with a Notification of Charges stemming from her marriage to Mr. Cabana. Among those charges stated, the Department alleged that Mrs. Cross violated General Order C-2, Rule 1 Section 5, which prohibited officers from associating with persons of “questionable character . . . unless necessary to do so in the performance of their duty.” Cross v. Baltimore City Police Dept., No. 1291, slip op. at 14 (Md. App. Sept. 3, 2012). Mrs. Cross brought her case before an administrative panel (“Board”), which recommended that Mrs. Cross be terminated. After her termination, Mrs. Cross appealed the Board’s decision to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, which affirmed Mrs. Cross’ termination. Mrs. Cross appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, and argued that the Department’s prohibition against “making personal contacts with persons of questionable character” interfered with her constitutional rights to marry and intimately associate.

    The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the Circuit Court’s ruling because the Department’s General Order neither directly nor indirectly interfered with Mrs. Cross’ constitutional rights. The Court held that the right to intimate association is an intrinsic personal liberty subject only to reasonable regulation. Though observing that the exact source of one’s right to marry was unclear, the Court found that the right was constitutionally protected under either the Fourteenth or First Amendments; the Court reasoned that in either case, the analysis would be the same: rational basis scrutiny. The Court found that rational basis scrutiny was appropriate because, while marriage is a fundamental right, the Department’s General Order did not serve to absolutely prevent officers from making intimate associations. In this case, the Department did not prohibit Mrs. Cross’ marriage to Mr. Cabana; in fact, Mrs. Cross and Mr. Cabana were still married. Furthermore, any indirect burden placed by the Department on Mrs. Cross was rationally related to the Department’s goal of furthering public trust of the police in the community, maintaining discipline within the Department’s ranks, and ensuring the safety of its employees. Accordingly, the Court found the General Order constitutional, and upheld Mrs. Cross’ termination.