A terrible circle of untruths

April 21, 1992

Baltimore City Police Officer Bernard Douglas has won acquittal of perjury, completing a terrible ordeal for himself and his family. That completes a terrible circle, beginning with a raid disrupting the lives of another family in Northwest Baltimore. And the drugs that sparked it are still being sold, while an officer of the law finds his credibility tainted even as he savors a moment of relief.

The missed point of this drama is that the Bill of Rights means what it says, for innocent homeowners as well as police officers. The power of government to invade private homes is sharply limited: Warrants must be sworn, evidence must be presented. Above all, the person presenting that evidence must be truthful.

That is not what happened with the raid that put Officer Douglas in the dock. Apparently, he was misled about the origin of the drugs. How that resulted in evidence being presented to support a warrant after the raid was over was not explained.

What is painfully obvious now, however, is that none of this need have happened. The raided family's ordeal was terrible, too: police rushing into the house with neighbors looking on; rooms ransacked in a futile search for drugs; news reports noting a relationship with the mayor and questioning any "influence"; deep suspicion, hard to dispel, even after all charges are dropped. The second stage, now concluded for Officer Douglas, saw the tables turned on the investigating officers.

Meanwhile, drug dealings persist. So do shootings and killings, hTC outpacing the violence of 1991.

Getting off at trial is not the same as having fairly investigated the evidence in the first place, penetrating the bogus claim that the "suspect" was dealing drugs. Not having done that, an officer finds himself in the unenviable position of having much left to prove about his dependability as a witness. That's the worst part of this whole mess, that officers of the law remain under clouds of doubt while the drug dealing they are sworn to fight continues unabated.

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