Officer's knock inspires new low in swift thinking


September 27, 1990|By MICHAEL OLESKER

On the morning the money came out of the sky, Officer Paul O. Dean stood in the 4900 block of Goodnow Road and realized a wonderful thing: In 10 years with the Baltimore City Police Department, he had never seen anything quite this dumb.

The money was floating like something in a dream. It wasn't pennies from heaven, it was dollars from a third-floor apartment, and it was raining all over Dean. It was fives and tens and twenties in U.S. currency, and by the time all of it reached Goodnow Road, there was $5,181 of it sprinkled all about.

It was thrown by geniuses panicked by a drug raid that never was -- geniuses who, in their mad haste, instead of merely dumping illegal narcotics out the window, decided they'd better dump perfectly legal money, as well.

And now, standing under it, watching it float gently down onto the top of his head, Officer Dean stood on the sidewalk and thought of idiocy beyond measure.

"Never," he told himself, "have I seen anything this dumb."

Minutes earlier on Monday morning, he'd gotten a call to check out loud noise coming from a third-floor apartment on Goodnow Road, in Northeast Baltimore. By the time he'd climbed a stairway to the second floor, he could hear the ruckus one floor up.

"I can't sleep at night," a woman on the second floor told Dean, peaking her head out of her apartment as he rushed past.

"I'll take care of it," he told her, continuing to mount the stairs.

The noise kept getting louder. It sounded like screaming. Dean's intention was to knock on the door, ask the people inside to keep the noise down, and then go about his work.

In fact, that's about all he could do. He had no search warrant, no legal reason to enter the apartment, no suspicion of illegal activity. He couldn't have raided the place if he'd wanted to. And he didn't want to. He merely wanted to stand in the hallway and tell the people inside -- nicely, but firmly -- to quiet down.

But that was before the dumbness took on a life of its own.

"Who is it?" came a voice behind the door.

"Police," said Dean. "Open the door up."

Now it sounded like pandemonium in the apartment. Dean could hear people hollering and running about. He heard windows opening.

"I didn't know what I had," he was saying yesterday, "but I realized it was more than a disorderly conduct thing."

Dean thought people might be going out rear windows, so he ran back down the stairs to the rear of the building. Then he looked up. And coming out of the sky was all this loose money -- and three brown bags.

When the bags hit the ground, they broke open. Inside, police would later find, were 681 vials of cocaine and 51 bags of heroin.

In the annals of dumbness, narcotics makes a little more sense to throw out of windows. Cocaine is illegal. Heroin is illegal. Police come, traffickers want to get rid of it, although most tend to flush the stuff down toilets in such situations.

But, money? This was the first time Dean could remember anyone thinking money was illegal, and thus tossing it out of third-floor apartments.

Now he called for backup help and ran back to the front of the building, where a man was bolting out the front door. Dean grabbed him as more officers arrived. Then he went back to the rear again, where something brand new was coming out of the sky: a human being.

From the third-floor apartment, a young man jumped out of a window to a second-floor balcony, bounced off the balcony, landed on the ground and began to run. Dean caught him in a few strides.

Meanwhile, at the front of the building, police caught three more men trying to get out the front door.

And now, still basking in the loveliness of Monday morning, Dean was saying yesterday, "Ten years on the force, I've never seen anything like it. They probably thought it was a raid. But if they had just opened the door, I'd have said, 'Keep it down,' and then I'd have left. I have no authority to go in. I can't kick the door in because they're disorderly."

Naturally, there are various lengths to which drug traffickers will go to hide their stash, none of which generally involves throwing money out of windows.

"Oh, sure," Jamey Hochberg, an assistant state's attorney, was saying yesterday. Her unit handles several thousand drug cases a year.

"It's not unusual to see people on the street approached by police, and they'll drop the drugs they're carrying," Hochberg said. "They think that, if they don't have drugs on their actual person, then they can't be guilty.

"Of course, they're wrong. It's called constructive possession. If you're in control of it, it's yours. But generally, people will stash the stuff somewhere. Where? Houses, cars, garbage cans, behind the wheel of a car, behind a tree, under a house, in stairwells, in fire extinguishers, in small holes in walls."

And once in a lifetime, as on Goodnow Road this week, somebody will get the brilliant idea to toss the stash out a window, in the unthinking belief that gravity will not prevail.

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