'A true travesty of justice'

March 12, 1993

A special grand jury charged by Circuit Judge Kenneth L. Johnson with probing the quality of drug enforcement in the city released its report earlier this week. The 23-member panel harshly criticized the Police Department, saying it was targeting its efforts at street-level offenders rather than the wealthy and politically influential. The names of witnesses, individuals and cases were deleted by order of Judge Johnson in compliance with state law. Following are edited excerpts from the charge to the grand jury by Judge Johnson:

As presiding judge of the felony arraignment court from November 1990 through August 1991, I was able to keep detailed statistics relating to all defendants who pleaded guilty. During that period, 7,352 felony cases passed through the arraignment court. Of those, 1,722 resulted in guilty pleas. At the time of their pleas, 55 percent of the defendants had one prior conviction, 37 percent had two and 24 percent had three prior convictions. Sixty-one percent of the total were actual drug cases . . .

The defendants were relatively young. The overall average age was 28 and the average age for drug case defendants was 25. The average education level was 10th grade. All of the drug cases involved minor street-level dealer earnings, at best a few thousand dollars per week.

During my 10-month tenure in the felony arraignment court, not a single case involving a drug dealer at the wholesale level passed through that court. [A letter from State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms, attached to the grand jury report, refutes this statement and lists a number of major wholesale drug operations prosecuted by Mr. Simms' office.] Wholesale drug dealers earn tens of thousands of dollars per week, and they are not being pursued by the criminal justice system . . . Some of these dealers are employed in regular jobs as accountants, lawyers, doctors and businessmen in general and their money launderers. Their drug deals are much harder to detect and prosecute and have not been given priority in the overall law enforcement effort.

There is no pressure by society that requires the political leadership to confront and control the grave and pervasive problems that are caused by the drug trade. The list of crimes caused by the drug trade . . . is generally well known and rightly fuels public anger and outrage. The even greater institutional crimes of bribery and corruption caused by the wholesale drug dealers are much less known or understood by the public. These involve lawyers who collect and file false affidavits on behalf of their clients, lawyers who pay alibi witnesses to testify falsely at criminal trials, businessmen and bankers who "launder" drug money and otherwise do business with drug money and "front" for drug dealers and accountants and investment bankers who provide the necessary expertise to keep the enormous flow of cash hidden from public scrutiny.

My charge to you is that you look into and determine the reasons why the wholesale drug dealers are not being pursued and brought to justice by the criminal justice system. Your findings and report will be of great public importance. Until they are brought to justice, the so-called "war on drugs" will remain an illusion. And the ravages caused by the drug trade in Baltimore will continue unabated.

Following are edited excerpts from the report of the grand jury, which heard 50 witnesses in an extended term starting last May:

It was unfortunate that this grand jury had to overcome many obstacles to fulfill its charge. We were labeled the "runaway grand jury" and the "rogue grand jury" because we decided for ourselves the depth and approach to this investigation and would not be steered nor intimidated away from [fulfilling the] charge. . .

Our findings unfortunately do not cast those with the greatest responsibility in this so-called "war on drugs" in the best light. We determined that in many instances the expertise, manpower and money are in fact available, contrary to popular belief. However, many of the impediments to progress in these investigations come from within the very agency and prosecutor's office charged with the responsibility to wage this illusory "war." The evidence produced clearly demonstrates a hands-off approach when the targets were certain well-connected members of the community. . .

There [is] substantial evidence that the majority of large-scale investigations stemming from the district drug enforcement units are in fact directed out of the department. Many of the incidents testified to suggest a degree of anarchy among the different districts and units, evidencing poor leadership and management. . .

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