Police perjury charges prompt case dismissals 200 drug suspects spared prosecution

April 03, 1992|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

Some have been charged with dealing heroin, some with selling cocaine on street corners, and others were arrested with crack and semiautomatic weapons in their possession -- and they'll all be spared prosecution.

The decision to dismiss charges against approximately 200 drug suspects is one that Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms defends as necessary "to maintain the integrity of our justice system."

All of the suspects were arrested either by or in the presence of five Northwest District police officers, who recently were indicted on perjury charges for allegedly falsifying search warrants in city drug raids.

Mr. Simms said he cannot rely on the testimony of the officers in court since their credibility is compromised by indictments "which, in effect, call them liars."

The officers -- who came into the spotlight after coming up empty on a drug raid at the home of a relative of the mayor -- say they are being prosecuted under pressure from City Hall. Mr. Simms disputed that claim.

"No one is suggesting that they aren't courageous or that they haven't done great things for this city, but the fact is, there is a strong allegation being made about their truthfulness," Mr. Simms said. "We can't stand by their testimony."

Among the suspects recently released include three New York City men who were arrested at an Almond Avenue house while alledgedly possessing a kilogram and a half of crack cocaine.

Three co-defendants in another case were arrested with about 100 bags of crack, and two others were charged with dealing cocaine out of an Oakley Avenue house, where police recovered two .22-caliber semi-automatic weapons. All have been told that the charges are dismissed, according to police sources.

The five officers -- Chris Wade, Effron Edwards, Bernard Douglas, John Mohr, and Nicholas Constantine -- were charged with perjury after the state's attorney's office conducted an extensive review of more than 200 search warrants they filed in 1990 and 1991.

The circumstances that brought about the review and the dramatic events surrounding the officers began on the night of July 17, when an informant tipped Officer Constantine that he had bought drugs at a house on Taney Road.

Officer Constantine, 26, an eight-year veteran, drove to the house with the informant and watched him go inside. The informant returned several minutes later and showed the officer what appeared to be cocaine, claiming that he had bought it from a man in the house, police sources said.

The informant told the officer that the man who sold him the drugs didn't live at the house and that he intended to leave soon.

As a result, Officer Constantine rushed to get a search warrant, and said in a sworn statement to a judge that he had already submitted the alleged cocaine to a crime lab, when, in fact, he hadn't, the sources said.

The judge authorized the warrant and the officers raided the house, which turned out to be owned by Ronald E. Hollie, who is married to a cousin of Dr. Patricia Schmoke, the wife of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

No drugs were found at the home, and the white powdery substance that the informant gave Officer Constantine turned out to be a harmless chemical, the sources said.

"There are some who think that the informant set up the police," said one police official.

Officer Constantine was charged with perjury for the incident and was asked to resign, but he refused.

The four other officers were charged with single perjury counts relating to search warrants executed in other unrelated drug raids, according to Mr. Simms. He said the four other officers used similar shortcuts to obtain search warrants.

The five officers are scheduled to stand trial April 14.

"The search warrant is a sacred order that allows someone, under the cloak of authority, to intrude upon someone else's home," Mr. Simms said. "To violate such an order is very serious. It puts the integrity of the system at issue."

District Judge H. Gary Bass, who authorized several of the warrants sworn to by the officers, said he was very surprised by the decision to drop so many drug cases.

"What I don't understand is, why not wait until after the officers' trial to drop the charges? Suppose they're found not guilty?" said Judge Bass.

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