Nicholas S. Constantine, one of five city narcotics officers facing perjury charges in Baltimore Circuit Court, was found innocent yesterday of lying to a judge about a May 1991 search warrant.
Officer Constantine, 26, was one of the key players in a drug raid in July at the home of a relative of the mayor's wife. Yesterday's charge related to a different raid, in the 4900 block of Palmer Ave.
The officer still faces two other perjury-related counts -- one involving the mayoral relative's home -- that will likely go to trial today. But the prosecution's case against Officer Constantine and the other four officers is faltering and thus far has done little to sway Judge Andre M. Davis.
Last week, Judge Davis threw out a similar perjury case against Officer Bernard Douglas. Three other officers who were charged are still awaiting trial.
And the legal action has done much to bring on the ire of police officials and their attorneys, one of whom argued in court yesterday that the trial is all the doing of Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
Officer Constantine's attorney, Leslie A. Stein, loudly asked a former police internal affairs investigator who was testifying: "Isn't it true that the only reason this was dredged up was because Detective Constantine . . . had the misfortune of raiding a home of the mayor's relative last July?"
The officers and their attorneys claim that the reason they were targeted for investigation is a July 17 raid -- in which they came away empty-handed -- at a Taney Road home owned by Ronald E. Hollie. Mr. Hollie is married to a cousin of the wife of the mayor.
Judge Davis, who on Thursday threw out a case against Officer Douglas, stuck to his conclusion that the charges are based on technicalities and Officer Constantine did not act with malice or corruption.
"In this case, like in the last case, and in all the cases, the state has to prove that there's been a willful falsehood," the judge told prosecutor Haven H. Kodeck. "When we talk about perjury, we're talking about purposeful and intentional" untruths, Judge Davis said.
Each of the officers is accused of lying in search warrant affidavits that claimed they had submitted suspected drugs to a police crime lab when in fact they hadn't.
But Judge Davis said that although the statement -- sworn to before a judge -- is false, it does not constitute perjury because the officers had nothing to gain by lying.
"There's no motive to deceive" or to lie, he said, adding that the officers still had probable cause to get the search warrant even without the statement being on the application.
The search warrants have become a point of contention with state's attorney Stuart O. Simms, who demanded not only that the officers be charged criminally, but that most of their pending drug cases be dropped.
Dozens of drug dealers and users -- police claim as many as 200, although Mr. Simms argues only 50 -- have been released from criminal prosecution as a result of the decision.
The Taney Road home was identified by an informant who claimed to have bought drugs there. But no drugs were found in the raid, a result that prompted Mr. Schmoke to ask the police commissioner to investigate the circumstances.
Officer Constantine was charged in connection with the Taney Road incident after it was learned that he provided false information on the search warrant application.
He was also charged with perjuring himself in applications for two other search warrants, both resulting in May 7, 1991, raids on different houses on Palmer Avenue.
He was found innocent yesterday of one perjury count relating to one of the Palmer Avenue raids, and is still facing trial for the other Palmer raid and the Taney Road raid.
"I'm happy about today, but I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow," Officer Constantine said outside the courtroom after hearing the verdict.