Fallout from bungled raid risks scores of drug cases Perjury cases taint officers' testimony

April 19, 1992|By Thomas W. Waldron and Michael James | Thomas W. Waldron and Michael James,Staff Writers

On a clear, hot day last July, narcotics officers working the Pimlico area of Baltimore raided the home of Ronald Hollie.

It was not a good career move. Mr. Hollie, it turned out, is married to the cousin of Dr. Patricia Schmoke, the mayor's wife.

The next day, an upset Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was on the phone with the police commissioner. "I smell a rat," the mayor told him.

In the months since, the affair has played out like a law enforcement training film in reverse.

No drugs were found in the house and the occupants were not charged with crimes -- but five police officers were. Their alleged offense: committing perjury in seeking warrants for drug raids.

A judge dismissed the case against one officer Thursday, and the other officers may walk free, too. But because the officers were under a cloud, scores of unrelated drug cases they handled have been dropped by prosecutors, including one in which a man arrested with heroin, cocaine and $13,000 is likely to get his money back.

The case has raised questions about whether officers often provide false information, possibly committing perjury, in their zeal to get warrants for drug raids. It also has fostered mistrust between City Hall and officers on the street, who believe political pressure was used against those involved in the raid.

A usually reliable informant

A key player in the raid was Officer Nicholas S. Constantine, an eight-year police veteran and the son of a city homicide detective. A fellow officer describes him as an aggressive, second-generation cop.

Officer Constantine, 26, has arrested hundreds of drug users and dealers in Northwest Baltimore, an area besieged by heroin and cocaine users. He and the dozen other men in the Northwest District's Drug Enforcement Unit often spent 12 hours a day or more on the job, making an average of 60 drug arrests a month.

"All the drug dealers in Northwest knew who we were," says Officer Constantine.

"Sometimes, we'd just sit in the station and watch drug dealers drive in the parking lot to see if the knockers' cars were there. That's what they called us, knockers. And they would say to us, 'We just wanted to see if you guys were working today.' "

On July 17, Officer Constantine met with a 23-year-old informant. The informant had been reliable in a half-dozen prior cases and he seemed to have good information that day, Officer Constantine says.

A house on Taney Road in the Cheswolde area, the informant claimed, was occupied by a middle-class family, who were apparently unaware that a friend of the daughter was dealing cocaine there.

Officer Constantine drove the informant to the two-story brick house and watched him go inside.

The informant returned with a package of what appeared to be cocaine and told the officer that the man who sold it to him would be leaving soon. If the police were going to catch him, the informant supposedly told Officer Constantine, they would have to raid the house quickly.

Officer Constantine rushed to get a search warrant, and his written affidavit included a crucial misstatement. As part of a lengthy warrant application, he swore to District Court Judge Robert J. Gerstung that the alleged cocaine in the case had been submitted to a police lab for testing.

A typical warrant application includes pages of standard language and officers fill in only the pertinent details. In this case, Officer Constantine says he used a standard statement claiming that the drugs had been sent to the lab. He made no claim that the test results were back in, simply that the drug had been sent to the lab.

It had not. But Judge Gerstung, assuming that the affidavit was accurate, authorized the raid.

That evening, a squad of police, including Officer Constantine and the four other officers later indicted, broke down the door and stormed into the Hollies' house. During the raid, their daughter, in her 20s, was thrown to the floor and searched.

While the officers searched for drugs, Mr. Hollie tried to call the mayor.

"I'm going to call Kurt. I'm going to have your job," Mr. Hollie yelled at one point, according to Officer Constantine.

As it turns out, there were no drugs in the house.

"We knew something was terribly amiss," says one officer who was along on the raid.

The following day, Mr. Schmoke called Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods and asked him to look into the circumstances of the search, according to Clinton R. Coleman, the mayor's spokesman.

"One concern in his mind is that Dr. Schmoke often eats dinner with the Hollies, with her cousin, and this incident could have occurred during one of those times," Mr. Coleman said after Officer Constantine's indictment in November.

"After reviewing the facts in the case," Mr. Coleman said, "the mayor's comment to the police commissioner was, 'I smell a rat' . . . and that he was very upset with what happened."

The substance that the informant had produced turned out to be a chemical used to cut cocaine.

Officer Constantine was assigned to work on a loading dock at police headquarters.

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