Schmoke's vendetta

April 23, 1992

For more than four years, people have been asking whether Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke ever gets mad. We now have the answer. He is openly seething because Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms has dropped perjury charges against four narcotics officers after two of these cases were thrown out of court. "This doesn't end the matter by any stretch," the mayor promised.

Mr. Schmoke has been seeking vengeance ever since the four officers -- apparently unaware of the family connection -- last summer raided the house of his wife's cousin. The bust was a bust. Nothing was found. Worse yet, the officers had lied to obtain a search and seizure warrant. By everyday police standards, theirs may not have been a big lie; that, at least, was the ruling of a Circuit Court judge who dismissed the charges against the officers. But it was a lie, nonetheless. Because of it, the state's attorney has decided not to prosecute up to 200 other narcotics cases because the officers' credibility had been shot.

This is one sorry mess. And sadly, Mr. Schmoke seems determined to make it worse. He is threatening to seek federal charges against the four officers and use his political clout to have them punished by the Police Department. That is a clear misuse of the mayor's power and an unwarranted interference in police business. A case of police inexactness (or stupidity) now threatens to escalate into a mean-spirited, personal vendetta.

The city police force had integrity problems in the 1970s, when several officers were caught planting evidence or taking bribes. After a number of officers went to jail, the problems disappeared. More recently, comparable problems have again begun to surface.

In this case, Mr. Simms, rather than seeking a solution through a departmental trial board, decided to prosecute in public court. Since the case was dismissed, going back to the trial board may present serious problems. For one thing, there are said to be many previous perjury cases in which no heavy penalty was given. If the department now turns around and throws the book at four officers whose charges already have been dismissed in court, the Schmoke administration could be asking for legal and political trouble.

A reputation or image once harmed is difficult to repair. Mr. Schmoke ought to move cautiously in this mine field.

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