OPINION: Justice for all? Why hasn’t Bishop Cook who struck bicyclist Palermo been charged?

The Baltimore Brew

Todd H. Oppenheim is a felony trial attorney in the Office of the Public Defender, with 10 years of experience representing indigent clients before the District Court and Circuit Court in Baltimore City.

Todd H. Oppenheim January 5, 2015

The death of cyclist Thomas Palermo has struck several chords in me. First and foremost, his death is a tragedy and an irreplaceable loss for his family. Second, it is a clarion call for heightened motorist awareness of bicycle safety.

Besides grief, though, Palermo’s death has sparked a strong reaction in me as a criminal defense attorney who represents indigent clients. My reaction focuses on justice. Equal Justice.

Palermo died 10 days ago and still no charges have been filed by the State’s Attorney’s Office against the driver of the vehicle that hit him. Why? Based on my experience as an attorney in the Public Defender’s Office for 10 years, I believe one key factor is at work.

Heather Elizabeth Cook, who drove into Palermo and fled as he lay dying, is a member of the upper tier of Baltimore’s socioeconomic ladder as the Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

If one of my clients, who are mostly African-American men, hit Palermo, charges would have been immediately filed against them. This would have been done at the scene by police without a formal arrest – or at the jail if the police took them in and prosecutors looked at the (still publicly unreleased) police report about the incident.

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