A frequent critic of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration was arrested and jailed Wednesday morning when she tried to enter City Hall to attend a public meeting. Officers told the activist, Kim A. Trueheart, 55, of Baltimore, that she had been banned from the building.
Trueheart was held at Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Facility on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct until Thursday morning, when she was released, the facility confirmed.
"I'm home ... Thank you lord!!!" Trueheart posted at 5:03 a.m. on the social networking site Twitter, where she has an active presence and more than 600 followers.
City Hall and police officials could not immediately explain who had ordered officers to prevent Trueheart from entering the building — and top police officials said they were investigating whether such a ban was legal.
"City Hall is a public building, but we have an obligation to make sure that citizens that come to conduct business don't pose any type of threat and they're also respectful," said a police spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi. "There's a certain decorum that's expected at City Hall."
He added: "Legal affairs is going to research issues of the ban. There's definitely not a list of banned people from City Hall that I'm aware of."
According to charging documents, about 9 a.m. Wednesday, officers at the door of City Hall told Trueheart she was not allowed to enter to attend the Board of Estimates meeting because of previous "disturbances and her being confrontational on other occasions."
The police report cited a Jan. 16 incident in the atrium of City Hall in which Trueheart, in a loud voice, interrupted Rawlings-Blake as she was attempting to answer questions from reporters. The police report described Trueheart's behavior as "very disorderly and irate."
The police report said she was arrested Wednesday when she refused to leave the entranceway of City Hall and "began to cause a disturbance."
Trueheart frequently speaks out at government and education meetings in Baltimore. She regularly attends sessions of the City Council, Board of Estimates and Board of Education and testifies on wide-ranging subjects.
For example, she has spoken out against tax breaks for developers, the sale of the Senator Theatre, and cell phone towers on city school buildings. She has also collaborated with council members on legislation and participated in council workshops on auditing. It is not unusual for her to confront public officials with questions, and she sometimes loudly interrupts politicians as they're speaking.
City Solicitor George Nilson was perplexed Wednesday morning when asked why Trueheart had been banned from City Hall. "I can't imagine why," he said. "She's usually in the room watching us carefully. I have no idea why." Later, Nilson said he would look into the matter.
Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, referred questions to police.
Meredith Curtis, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said her organization had questions about the ban and the subsequent arrest.
"The ACLU thinks there needs to be a high bar that is met when you ban a citizen from a seat of government where they wish to express their views," she said. "The legality of the arrest that happened today depends on the legality of the original ban. The ACLU thinks there are substantial questions as to whether last week's ban was proper."
On Jan. 16, Rawlings-Blake abruptly ended a news conference when Trueheart began to interrupt the mayor's responses to reporters' questions. As a police officer stood between Trueheart and the mayor, Trueheart began to question the officer in a loud voice.
"Why are you pushing me?" she asked. "Why are you pushing me? I think police harassment is going on right here. I'm not sure why you're pushing me. You need to move away from me. You need to stop pushing me."
Trueheart then began to question Rawlings-Blake about Comptroller Joan M. Pratt's allegations that the city is wasting millions of dollars by delaying an upgrade of its aging phone system. "Why are you wasting $400,000 a month?" Trueheart asked.
According to the police report, Trueheart was asked Jan. 16 not to come back to City Hall by Lt. Rob Morris after the encounter with the mayor, though she was not arrested or charged with a crime. On Wednesday, "Ms. Trueheart refused to leave the location when asked several times to and warned," Officer Samuel Thomas wrote in his police report. "Ms. Trueheart was then placed under arrest."
Another citizen activist, Mike McGuire, 40, of Baltimore, said he witnessed the arrest. He said the officers told Trueheart she was banned from City Hall for 30 days. He said officers told Trueheart, "You know you can't be here," and Trueheart responded, "Why can't I be here? What law have I broken?"
McGuire said officers were forcing Trueheart from the building when they arrested her.
After last week's encounter, Trueheart wrote a message on Twitter, saying she had been ejected from the building. "Guess who got themself BANNED from City Hall today? #NoTransparency #NoIntegrity," she wrote.
In a related matter, two activists who were charged with trespassing at City Hall in August were acquitted at trial Tuesday in Baltimore.
The Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon and Sharon Black had wanted to deliver a letter to Rawlings-Blake demanding an "emergency meeting" to discuss alleged police brutality, the closing of recreation centers and fire companies, and the creation of more city jobs programs. Police arrested them after they refused to leave the building.
"Citizens have a right to plead grievances before City Hall," Witherspoon said Wednesday. "City Hall is the people's house. It does not belong to the mayor and the City Council. We send Kim Trueheart our love and support."