Baltimore investigates police mental health provider

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Story highlights

  • Complaint accuses firm of rushing mental evaluations of police officers, other employees
  • Mayor indefinitely suspends contract with Psychology Consultants Associated

(CNN)The mayor of Baltimore has indefinitely suspended referrals to the company hired to conduct mental health evaluations for city of Baltimore employees, including the Baltimore Police Department, according to a statement released Friday.

The suspension is in place while Psychology Consultants Associated is being investigated for allegedly rushing psychological evaluations of prospective and existing police officers, some possibly taking as little as 15 minutes, according to Kevin Harris, spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
"Through ongoing litigation, additional information has come to the mayor's attention which makes it necessary to temporarily suspend our contract with PCA until further notice," Harris said in a statement.
    "The mayor will make a final determination on the status of PCA's contract at the conclusion of the open investigations to determine if PCA has satisfactorily met the terms of their contract with the city."
    Harris would not comment to CNN on when and under what circumstances the investigation began. The Baltimore City Inspector General and the city's legal department are leading the investigation.
    The Baltimore Police Department has been under scrutiny since the April arrest of Freddie Gray, who died after being injured in police custody. Six Baltimore police officers have been charged in Gray's death.
    A separate company, Atlantic OccuPsych, will provide psychological services during the investigation, according to the statement. Current employees who wish to continue using PCA may do so.
    PCA had provided psychological services to Baltimore Police Department recruits and enlisted officers since 1968, according to a proposal submitted to the Maryland State Police by PCA.
    PCA and its president, psychologist Kenneth Sachs, were placed on probationary status by the Maryland State Police on June 10, 2015, according to state police documents obtained by CNN.
    The state police received a complaint that PCA allegedly conducted some officer evaluations in as little as 15 minutes, instead of the 45 minutes required in its state contract, according to the documents.
    The state police established a "tracking and audit mechanism" to monitor PCA, according to documents from the Maryland State Police. Sachs is still allowed to evaluate patients during the probationary period.
    PCA provides screening and active officer assessments for the Maryland State Police, according to the Maryland State Police Office of Media Communications.
    Lawyers for PCA and Sachs have not replied to CNN's requests for comment, though they have denied the allegations in multiple media reports.
    In a proposal to the Maryland State Police, PCA says it developed the state of Maryland guidelines for screening police and corrections officers.
    "We were asked by the Maryland Correction and Police Training Commissions to develop model guidelines for screening applicants. These guidelines were adopted by the commission in 1997 and are now the required guidelines in Maryland for all agencies hiring and using law enforcement and correctional officers."
    It is unclear if the Baltimore Police Department has a minimum requirement time for mental health evaluations.
    PCA's proposal to the Maryland State Police lists multiple evaluation requirements including that psychologists "will do an individual interview of at least 45 minutes in duration."
    Robert H. Pearre Jr., Baltimore City inspector general, confirmed his office has a case open regarding PCA, but said it is in its "very early stages." Pearre said the initial complaint that led to his office's investigation came from a registered psychologist, Tali Shokek, but Pearre would not go into the specifics of the complaint.
    "Keeping with our office policy we don't comment on the content of an ongoing investigation." Pearre said.
    Shokek also filed the original complaint that led to the Maryland State Police investigation, according to Maryland State Police spokesperson Greg Shipley.
    Shokek provided CNN with an email purported to be between her and Sachs in which Sachs attempts to recruit Shokek to provide psychological evaluations for Baltimore police officers, saying Shokek could see three or four officers per hour and be paid $50 each.
    "It takes me 15-20 minutes to interview and dictate a boilerplate report," Sachs allegedly said in the email addressed to Shokek.
    Shokek says in the purported email that the PCA contract with Baltimore City requires a minimum evaluation time of one hour per person. CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of this email, nor the supposed mandatory minimum one-hour evaluation.
    PCA has held contracts with at least 17 other agencies, including several police forces throughout Maryland and the FBI, according to documents released by the Maryland State Police.