Grand jury report called 'amateurish' Schmoke, Simms dismiss call for probe of the Baltimore Police Department

March 10, 1993|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer Staff writer Michael Ollove contributed to this article.

As a grand jury released a report critical of the Baltimore Police Department's management and drug-arrest record, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms angrily dismissed the findings yesterday as shallow and amateurish.

"What this jury has done is cast aspersions and make bald allegations," Mr. Simms said. "Don't come to me with an amateurish report that makes these kinds of allegations."

The 23-member grand jury called for an independent prosecutor to investigate its findings -- including charges that the Police Department and state's attorney's office thwarted investigations linked to elected officials; that the Police Department focuses on low-level drug arrests instead of bigger targets; and that federal grants meant for drug enforcement were instead misspent on police overtime pay.

Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods yesterday said he was "very angry" about the report.

After conferring with Mr. Simms, U.S. Attorney Richard Bennett said he will assign an assistant to review the report. But Mr. Bennett said his office will look only into allegations that federal grants meant for drug enforcement were misspent.

The U.S. attorney's office will not concern itself, he said, with the grand jury's findings about management of the Police Department or the enforcement of state law.

And James Cabazes, investigator for the Maryland special prosecutor's office, said, "We're going to take a look at the report and assess what they've got."

Mr. Cabazes said his office would look into allegations of criminal activity, not internal Police Department structure.

Despite criticisms from the mayor and state's attorney, two grand jurors contacted yesterday stood by the report, which took five months of work and was based on the testimony of 50 witnesses. The Police Department, the jurors said, is badly run, and Mr. Schmoke has chosen to defend it instead of improving it.

The mayor, who preceded Mr. Simms as state's attorney, argued that the grand jury's focus was narrow and its understanding of drug investigations naive.

The grand jury operated independently, without the help of a prosecutor. "In all my years as a prosecutor, I don't recall a grand jury operating without the assistance of a prosecutor," Mr. Schmoke said.

Mr. Simms said the jurors would not answer his letters. "The report and the process leading to it were flawed," he said.

"Without the benefit of a legal adviser, there's some question as to whether or not they're even knowledgeable about the constitutional constraints involved in these cases," he added.

"Not having the benefit of speaking to this group, I was unable to address the full scope of their concerns."

Two jurors, however, said Mr. Simms was uncooperative and refused to testify before them.

"We invited Simms and he refused," said Robert Zielaskiewicz, one of the grand jurors. "He wouldn't come if there was a court reporter present or a tape recorder present."

The jury decided not to align itself with the state's attorney's office, said a second juror, who asked to remain unidentified, "because you never know where the investigation's going to lead. The problem is you don't know who you can trust outright. However, I think we did an admirable job."

The jurors were charged by Circuit Judge Kenneth L. Johnson with probing the quality of drug enforcement in the city.

The judge said he had become frustrated with the large number of low-level drug cases brought before him and the lack of prosecutions of high-level dealers and money launderers.

When they started their assignment last year, the jurors met at City Hall with Mr. Schmoke, who traditionally meets with each grand jury.

But the two jurors contacted yesterday said the session was not placid.

"The mayor is very interested in his own program of decriminalizing drugs," one juror said.

"And if you deviated from what he thinks, he doesn't agree with you."

The grand jury report alleges that the Police Department concentrated on street-level drug arrests instead of higher-level wholesalers.

Drug and homicide investigations that "pointed in the direction of certain elected officials" were hindered by commanders, the report said.

It adds that high-ranking police officials ignored repeated warnings about the influx of young street dealers from New York who have come to dominate major drug markets here. And the report also concludes that Criminal Investigations Division detectives spent federal funds earmarked to fight use of crack cocaine on overtime pay.

Though the report calls for an independent investigation of practices by police and the state's attorney's office, there is no legal requirement for the panel's recommendations to be followed.

"What can we do?" one juror said. "We just hope the powers that be pick up on it."

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