A county prosecutor dropped drug charges against three men yesterday, after their lawyer suggested undercover Army investigators were out of their jurisdiction when they allegedly bought drugs from the men in Pioneer City.
In arguing that investigators from Fort Meade have no police powers off the base, Public Defender Alan R. Friedman said a strict application of the law showed the investigators could have faced criminal charges for buying crack cocaine.
Friedman's argument caught the ear of Circuit Judge Bruce C. Williams, who told Assistant State's Attorney Jennifer Spivak to submit a memo justifying the arrests within 30 days. But the delay in the trial posed a problem for the prosecutor since one of the Army investigators, Earl Bethel, said he was leaving within a day for Saudi Arabia and was not due back for a year.
After a short break, Spivak told the judge she would nolle prosse, or drop the charges against the men, because of a potential problem with a court rule requiring defendants to be brought to trial within 180 days of their initial court appearance. She added, "I'll charge them again."
After the hearing, Spivak said she had second thoughts about her decision to drop the charges.
"Chalk it up to inexperience," she said, adding that she could charge the men again as long as the 180-day rule would not be violated.
Whether prosecutors decide to do that, however, is another question. She said she would have to decide whether she could prosecute the case without her key witness or whether she could use the investigator's Middle East assignment to convince the judge to make an exception to the 180-day rule.
Also, prosecutors may look into the merit of Friedman's argument and choose to submit the memo to force a ruling on the issue, she said.
The three men were charged after Army investigators bought suspected crack cocaine at or near a residence in the 8600 block of Pioneer Drive three times last April. Court records show the buys were part of a joint investigation between county police and Army investigators into drug activity on the base at Fort Meade.
A memorandum written by Stephen C. Gekoski, special agent in charge of the Criminal Investigation Command at Fort Meade, asked his superior officers for permission to conduct investigations off the base for 60 days.
The memo outlines an investigation into drug activity involving Sylvester Parker Jr., a 24-year-old civilian suspected of conspiring with a female soldier to sell crack cocaine to civilians and soldiers on the base.
The memo says undercover military investigators were introduced to Parker, who introduced them to the other two men.
The memo notes that assistant U.S. Attorney E. Thomas Roberts said the investigation did not merit prosecution in federal court.
Army investigators charged Parker and two of his acquaintances in Pioneer City with distribution of cocaine and conspiracy. Charged were: Parker, of the 8000 block Traynor Court, Fort Meade; Robert Mack, 21, of the 1800 block Richfield Drive, Severn; and Thomas Earl Byrd, 26, also of the 1800 block Richfield Drive.
Mack and Parker were free on their own recognizance while awaiting trial, and Byrd was freed on $1,000 bond.