Psychological firm that screened Baltimore police is under investigation

Documents obtained by The Associated Press reveal the firm hired to conduct psychological evaluations of officers cut corners in their mental health screenings.

Baltimore Police Department/AP
This May 1, 2015, photo provided by the Baltimore Police Department shows Lt. Brian Rice, one of the police officers charged with felonies in the death of Freddie Gray. The psychological firm paid to evaluate Baltimore police, including Rice, Psychology Consultants Associated, has been reprimanded by the state police for cutting corners in its mental health screenings of officers.

The city of Baltimore is investigating a psychological firm which was paid to evaluate troubled Baltimore police officers, including one charged in the death of Freddie Gray. Meanwhile, the Maryland State Police has put the firm on probation when they discovered it completed officer evaluations in 15 minutes instead of the 45 minutes required by the state contract, documents obtained by The Associated Press reveal. 

Experts say 15 minutes is far too short to adequately conduct psychological assessments, either for police applicants or officers seeking to return to active duty. Psychology Consultants Associated (PCA) screened both.

One of the officers that should have been evaluated was Lt. Brian Rice. In 2012, he was accused of removing a semi-automatic handgun from the trunk of his personal vehicle and threatening the mother of his child. Court records and sheriff’s reports raised concerns about Rice’s self-control and judgment.

Michael A. Wood, a retired Baltimore police sergeant who said he wrote the department's medical policy, said Rice "absolutely would have had a fitness for duty evaluation, and would have been referred to PCA. It would have been required."

However, the quality of the test Rice and similar officers would have gone through is now in question.

Rice is one of six Baltimore police officers facing charges in Gray's death in police custody this past April. The court charged Rice with manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct in office.

Jack Leeb, a psychologist whose firm performs psychological assessments for 30 law enforcement agencies in Maryland, said screenings typically take him at least 40 minutes.

"If you have a young person with no significant issues, he's never been arrested or done drugs — those types of things — if the answers are no, no, no, no, the interview could take as little as 20 minutes," Leeb told The Associated Press. "But that's just the interview. To dictate the report, that takes between 10 and 15 minutes by itself. In a really clean case it would take 35 minutes, and that would be on the low side. But 15 minutes for the whole thing? They can't possibly be asking all the questions."

Additionally, PCA and its president, psychologist Kenneth Sachs, are already the subject of a lawsuit involving allegations of shoddy screenings.

Baltimore police officer Angeline Todman, who suffered from mental health issues, killed herself with her service weapon just five days after Sachs deemed her fit to return to active duty following two involuntary hospitalizations.

Todman had been first committed to a hospital due to drastic changes in behavior, among other health concerns. Four months later she was hospitalized a second time, and upon her release asked to be reinstated. Sachs denied her request, but ultimately found her fit for duty and authorized the return of her service weapon.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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