Legal glitch paves way for meaner streets

MICHAEL OLESKER

November 05, 1991|By MICHAEL OLESKER

The dispatcher's clipped call arrived at 11:25 on the night of Sept. 11: "Controlled dangerous substance violation in the 1800 block of East 28th Street."

End of message. Sitting in their unmarked car at The Alameda and Kennedy, just around the block, Baltimore police officers Anita Hicks and Cynthia Molick responded immediately and arrived to find a quiet street.

L In the 1800 block of East 28th, this is known as a blessing.

"A tough area," Officer Hicks was saying the other day. "A lot of drug traffic, a lot of shooting in the vicinity. People in the neighborhood are scared. Kids are scared. I've had kids as young as 11 years old come up to me and say the drug dealers wanted them to work for them.

"One night, my partner and I were sitting in an alley. Guys fired off a shotgun to try to scare us away. We went after them, and they were laughing at us. Oh, yeah, it's a tough area."

When she and Officer Molick arrived in the 1800 block of East 28th Street on the night of Sept. 11, they spotted one occupied car, a white Chevrolet with two men sitting in the front. The two officers pulled alongside and got out of their car. Hicks carried a flashlight.

When she shined it into the car, she says the driver was holding a handgun between his legs, which he dropped to the floor as quickly as he could.

"Both of you, put your hands on the --board," Hicks said. She and Molick held the two men at gunpoint until additional police arrived.

In the car, they found a fully-loaded .25-caliber semiautomatic, // additional bullets, $607 in cash, stacked, says Hicks, "the way drug dealers do it. In separate piles of tens and twenties."

Also, a pager known to be used by professionals of all types who wish to be located easily, a gold watch, a diamond ring, and a gold bracelet.

The two men in the car were charged with illegal possession of a handgun and illegally transporting a handgun.

The other day, the case arrived at Northeast District Court, where Assistant State's Attorney Barry Williams read a statement of facts into the record.

And this is where the case in the 1800 block of East 28th Street begins to get messy -- because, as Williams read the statement of facts into the record, it came out as the 2800 block East 28th Street.

"It was just my handwriting," Officer Hicks says. "It was a 'one' looking like a 'two' on my statement of charges, which the state's attorney read from in court.''

"I don't know," prosecutor Williams said yesterday, "if I read it incorrectly or [Officer Hicks] wrote it down incorrectly."

The outcome, though, was immediate: Judge C. Yvonne Holt-Stone noticed the discrepancy, and she declared: Not guilty.

She said it wasn't fair for police to get a call telling them to go one place but then show up in another place 10 blocks away and start shining lights in people's cars.

"The approach was improper," Judge Holt-Stone said yesterday. They were 10 blocks away. They weren't even in the right area. How do you approach a car that's not even in your area?"

Not so, Officer Hicks said yesterday.

"That wasn't the case," she said. "We were told the 1800 block, and we went to the 1800 block. It was just my handwriting that threw the state's attorney, and I pointed it out to him in court. And we told the judge. It was just a one looking like a two."

Judge Holt-Stone remembers the explanation. The problem, she said yesterday, is that she had already noticed the discrepancy and ruled "not guilty."

"I have to go by what is read to the court," she said. "Once you find someone not guilty, you can't change it. No, not even if it's just a few seconds later. It's like putting on a trial and then saying, 'Oh, judge, we have more evidence.' It's too late. You can't do that, it's already over."

There were police yesterday expressing frustration over that kind of action. The streets are filthy with guns, and with drug trafficking, and some cops think some judges are insensitive.

"Why," one officer asked, "didn't Judge Holt-Stone even ask the guy, what are you doing carrying a gun on the street?' Why didn't she ask that before she pronounced a verdict?"

Yesterday, the judge said, "It's not up to me to do that. It's not up to me to do anything but hear the facts."

But police say she also delivered a brief speech, questioning what she considered random police questioning.

As Hicks remembers, "The judge said, 'Is it normal to conduct field interviews at random? And to just stop anyone on the streets and walk up to cars and shine your flashlight? I have a problem with this.' "

The response in the courtroom, says Hicks, was open cheering from spectators.

"It was embarrassing," says Hicks. "They were cheering the judge on. I explained that we had received a call, that we weren't just approaching random citizens. Look, I'm a professional. I've been working the streets for six years. I know what's going on out there."

Implicit in the words is a message: Some people do not understand.

"I understand," Judge Holt-Stone said yesterday. "I know the effect of guns and drugs on families, on children, on old people. I understand the fear. I'm very sensitive to the situation.

"If all of this had been brought up beforehand, then the court would have considered amending."

And so we have the nub of police frustration: A slight interruption of the prosecutor's statement of facts, an insertion of the correct address, an explanation that the police had gone to the right address, and maybe the verdict is different.

Instead, one more gun is back on the street, and so are the guys who were carrying it.

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