The Baltimore state's attorney is dropping criminal charges against about 200 accused drug dealers or users arrested by five narcotics officers who now face prosecution for perjury, police and prosecutors say.
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 also can reclaim alleged drug money seized during their arrests, police sources said yesterday.
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," said State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms.
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 contend they are being singled out because of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's personal grudge, declare 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 he had bought drugs.
The officers, part of the Northwestern 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 expedited the process by providing false information under oath, according to the charges. 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.
Mayor Schmoke initially asked Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods to look into the circumstances of the raid. When the police officers were indicted, Mr. Schmoke's spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman, said, "I don't believe the mayor was pushing for anything but justice in the case."
But one of the accused officers, Nicholas S. Constantine, 26, said, "It's a mess. Now they're . . . dropping all my cases. 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 arrested 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.
In a memo sent Feb. 21, Howard Gersh, chief of the narcotics investigation division of the state's attorney's office, told prosecutors that any case in which any of the accused officers is an essential witness would be dropped.
"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," Mr. Gersh wrote.
But thus far, any case that the officers have touched is considered a lost cause, according to police sources. Cases dating back to March 1991 have been dropped and the officers are told not to bother to go to court to testify in any of their cases, police said.
The other officers charged in the perjury indictment are Chris Wade, 33, a five-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.