Police officer beats a perjury charge judge faults state 4 more officers still face trial. Much of their work doubted.

April 17, 1992|By Thomas W. Waldron and Michael James | Thomas W. Waldron and Michael James,Staff Writers

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge has thrown out a perjury charge against a city police officer accused of lying on a search warrant affidavit, saying the state had not proven that the officer intentionally lied.

The decision yesterday was a blow to State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms, who brought perjury charges against the officer and four others in the wake of a botched raid last summer at the home of the cousin of the wife of Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. The cases against the other four officers appeared in jeopardy after yesterday's ruling, but Mr. Simms said he plans to pursue them.

After filing the perjury cases, Mr. Simms began dropping scores of cases against drug suspects filed by the five officers in Northwest Baltimore, saying the perjury indictments would taint their testimony.

The indicted officers have estimated that prosecutors are dropping up to 200 of their cases. Mr. Simms has not provided an exact number, but says the figure is closer to 50. An examination of the officers' cases suggests that at least 100 cases could be dropped.

Judge Andre M. Davis threw out the case against Officer Bernard Douglas after the prosecutor had concluded his case but before the defense attorney began his.

"At this stage . . . the state's case fails," Judge Davis said.

Officer Douglas was charged with perjuring himself on an April 1, 1991, search warrant application for a raid on a house in the 3000 block of Spaulding Ave.

In a sworn affidavit, the officer stated that heroin bought by an informant at the suspect's house had been tested by the police drug lab. But the testing actually occurred after he made the oath, according to testimony.

Henry L. Belsky, the attorney for Officer Douglas, contended that any misstatement was simply an oversight, not an intentional lie. Some 130 vials of heroin were seized in the raid, according to Mr. Belsky.

Sparking the cases against the five officers was a July 1991 raid at the Taney Road home of a cousin of Dr. Patricia Schmoke, the mayor's wife. Police, who were unaware that the house belonged to a mayoral associate, found no drugs during the raid. Police say they may have been set up by an informant who reported he bought drugs in the house the day of the raid.

Following the embarrassing raid, prosecutors investigated the entire Northwestern District drug enforcement unit, of which the five officers were members.

State's Attorney Simms said last night that the four other cases are still alive. "The process continues," he said, declining further comment.

In all five cases, the officers were accused of falsely contending on warrant applications to have submitted suspected drugs for lab tests before they actually had.

Some police officers have contended that the prosecution of the five officers was motivated by pressure from Mr. Schmoke. Mr. Simms and Mr. Schmoke have denied that the mayor, a former prosecutor, pushed the case forward.

Judge Davis said the prosecution's case suffered a blow when District Court Judge Kathleen M. Sweeney, who signed the search warrant in question, testified that Officer Douglas is an honest man.

"I believe he is very truthful and honest and I respected him," Judge Sweeney testified.

Moments after Judge Davis announced his decision, Officer Douglas and several other police officers erupted with shouts of delight and applause.

Officer Douglas declared, "They didn't have me" and went to a pay phone to call his mother.

"I told her that I had won and that she should give the glory to God," he said.

Officer Douglas, a 5 1/2 -year police veteran, said he had been with the Northwestern District's drug enforcement unit for just 36 days when the trouble began.

"I'm hopeful that I'll be able to resume my normal duties now," Officer Douglas said, adding: "This in no way taints my commitment to the city police force, and I hope I can just go back to my job. I'm not holding a grudge."

Chris Wade, another of the officers charged with perjury, said he was confident that yesterday's decision meant the other officers would be vindicated.

Gene Constantine, a homicide detective and the father of Nicholas S. Constantine, another of the indicted officers, said the officers were charged criminally because of "a mere technicality."

"This isn't a criminal issue, it's a play on words," he said.

"They've slandered these boys' names, and for what? They should have been simply called in and told, 'You made a dumb mistake.' " The officers, he said, should have been punished administratively, perhaps at the very worst by a transfer out of narcotics.

A veteran homicide detective, Oscar L. Requer, said he also thought criminal charges were excessive.

"It should have been an administrative hearing, and that's it," he said. "The powers that be didn't have to go after them like this."

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