The Baltimore state's attorney is dropping criminal charges against approximately 200 accused drug dealers or users who were arrested by five narcotics officers now facing prosecution for perjury, police and prosecutors said yesterday.
About 60 percent of the cases being dismissed are felonies, and in some instances, suspected mid- to high-level cocaine and heroin dealers not only have been released from jail, but can reclaim alleged drug money seized during their arrests, police sources said.
The charges are being dropped because the arresting officers' credibility has been marred by perjury indictments stemming from a July 17 raid. They allegedly lied in search warrant affidavits. The raid was at the home of a relative of the mayor's wife.
"We're not happy about this, but we're in a business where credibility is a crucial issue," State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms said yesterday.
Mr. Simms called the decision to dismiss charges "very troublesome," but he said prosecutors have no choice now that the officers' truthfulness is being questioned. The officers are due to stand trial April 14.
"By formally charging these officers with perjury, you immediately place their credibility at issue," Mr. Simms said.
The accused officers, who maintain that they are being singled out because of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's personal grudge, are on record as insisting that they will be cleared of the charges.
They were charged with perjury after they provided false information on a search warrant for a home in the 2800 block of Taney Road, where an informant allegedly said that he had bought drugs.
The officers, who were part of the Northwest District's drug enforcement unit, said they rushed to the house after learning from the informant that the house owner was planning to move the drugs that night.
In their haste to obtain a court-ordered search, the officers are accused of expediting the process by providing false information under oath. The officers are charged with stating that the suspected cocaine obtained by the informant had been submitted to a police crime lab, when in fact it had not been.
The home turned out to be that of Ronald E. Hollie, the former head of the local hospital workers' union. He is married to a cousin of Dr. Patricia Schmoke, the wife of the mayor.
"It's a mess. Now they're sending me nol-pros slips every day, dropping all my cases," said one of the accused officers, 26-year-old Nicholas S. Constantine. "The drug dealers have got to be laughing."
Among those released from custody March 16 were four suspected narcotics dealers from New York City who were charged in Northwest Baltimore, allegedly with a kilogram and a half of crack cocaine.
Although the drugs are contraband, any money in the drug cases is considered personal property and can be reclaimed through a civil proceeding.
In a memo sent Feb. 21, Howard Gersh, chief of the narcotics investigation division of the state's attorney's office, told prosecutors that an "office-wide policy" had been established regarding the accused officers.
"After discussion with Mr. Simms, it has been decided that in any case where any of the above officers is an essential witness . . . the case is to be nol-prossed or dismissed," Mr. Gersh wrote. "If any of the above officers is a witness in a case that can be prosecuted without his testimony, then the case is to be handled in a normal procedure."
The other officers charged in the perjury indictment are Chris Wade, 33, a 5-year veteran; Effron Edwards, 27, a 4 1/2 -year veteran; Bernard Douglas, 27, a 5 1/2 -year veteran; and John Mohr, 36, an 18-year veteran.