Baltimore police commanders have removed the police officers assigned to the drug enforcement unit in the city's Western District after repeated complaints about possible corruption, law enforcement sources say.
After more than a year of growing concerns about the unit, objections by the city state's attorney's office prompted the transfers of the sergeant in command of the drug unit and another officer -- both targeted in corruption probes, according to sources.
The removals of Sgt. Robert DeAngelis and Officer Stanley Gasque, as well as the other officers in the eight-member drug unit, are only the latest chapter in a saga that includes:
* Allegations of a police officer's involvement with a drug ring.
* Allegations of officers pocketing cash seized from drug traffickers.
* Allegations that the drug unit supervisor misused money earmarked for the payment of drug informants, then forged his officers' names on informant pay vouchers to cover that misuse.
* Allegations that an officer fabricated information for a search warrant -- a contention that has persuaded city prosecutors to abandon one pending prosecution and consider dropping charges in several others.
Police spokesman Sam Ringgold said last week that the complaints are being probed by the department, adding: "It's an open investigation and we can't comment on the particulars, but the commissioner does take the allegations very seriously."
Officer Gasque maintains that there is no merit to the complaints and blames a fellow officer, whom he declines to identify, for provoking the probes.
"This is all from one person who was upset that I wouldn't share an informant with him and has been after me ever since," he said. "He's stirred all of this up and it's my reputation that is suffering as a result."
Informed in detail of the allegations against him, Sergeant DeAngelis said they were baseless, but he declined to say more than that, adding that he would speak with his commanding officer before making any other comment.
"It's just ridiculous," the sergeant said. In a department that is increasingly troubled by concerns about integrity, the situation involving the Western drug unit was surprising to many veteran officers and some commanders because the multiple allegations apparently provoked little response by police officials until two weeks ago.
"How much smoke do you need?" said one veteran commander, who asked not to be identified. "When you're stacking up corruption complaints one on top of the other, the least you can do is move people out of the drug unit until you get to the bottom of things."
Targets were allowed to stay
Instead, say sources close to the investigations, the targets of the complaints were allowed to remain in the plainclothes drug unit over the last year, as allegations accumulated.
Because of the turmoil in the Western's drug unit, federal and city law enforcement sources say, drug investigation in West Baltimore has been impaired. The unit, charged with street-level and mid-level narcotics enforcement in one of the city's most drug-ridden tracts, has been hampered by internal feuds and distrust related to the allegations.
The problems have also cost the district some much-needed federal help. While agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are active in other city police districts, they have kept their distance from the Western. "We're working with some individual officers we trust," one federal source says, adding that agents are not formally cooperating with the unit.
Top Police Department officials were first warned of possible problems in the Western drug unit by federal prosecutors in late 1991 -- a warning that was followed by others a year later. But even as allegations mounted, the department allowed the officers in question to remain in the drug unit, rather than transfer them to less sensitive positions.
Citing a string of integrity problems that have recently plagued the department -- cases that range from on-the-job stealing and perjury, to drug use, statutory rape and domestic violence -- some officers and commanders say that as with the Western unit, the departmental response has been weak.
"More than we ever did, in my memory at least, we have an integrity problem," says one police commander. "Worst of all, we aren't aggressively dealing with the problem."
Many officers involved in such activities remain on the street, according to patrolmen and detectives who readily cite alleged offenders by name and assignment.
In October 1991, for example, an Eastern District officer was indicted on charges of stealing cash from an undercover state trooper who posed as a drug dealer. Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods declared that the department would "not tolerate this type of activity."