3 officers will sue for $15 million Unfair penalties for raid alleged BALTIMORE CITY

August 20, 1993|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

Three Baltimore police officers have notified Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke that they will file a $15 million civil action against the city, claiming they are being unduly punished for leading a botched drug raid on the home of a mayoral relative.

The raid, conducted July 17, 1991, turned into trouble for the officers when no drugs were found in the house and they were charged with lying to obtain search warrants.

Although those charges were later thrown out by a judge, the three officers were charged with departmental violations for the raid and have been awaiting a police trial board. Meanwhile, they have been assigned to clerical duties.

In an Aug. 5 certified letter sent to City Solicitor Neal M. Janey, the three officers -- Nicholas S. Constantine, John Mohr and Chris Wade -- said through their lawyer that they each intend to file claims of $5 million against the city.

"Mayor Kurt Schmoke [and other officials] began a sustained, extortive and systematic campaign of retaliatory harassment causing physical and psychological injuries upon the [officers,]" said the letter, the first step required before a lawsuit can be filed against the city.

According to the letter, the officers are seeking $5 million apiece as compensation for "malicious prosecution, abuse of process, false arrest, false imprisonment, invasion of privacy, defamation, unlawful deprivation of liberty and intentional infliction of emotional distress."

The officers declined to comment yesterday. But in the past they have maintained that they were prosecuted and given undesirable duties in the police department because of the mayor's anger over the raid.

Officer Wade currently is assigned to filing at the police Central Records office. Officer Constantine, formerly assigned to the loading dock and to the quartermaster's unit, is now working behind an evidence check-in counter, as is Officer Mohr.

The officers' attorney, Barry S. Brown, who specializes in civil litigation, said last night he found it curious that the city has gone after the officers "so aggressively."

"The bottom line to this entire case is that the careers of three top-notch narcotics officers have, for all intent and purposes, been systematically destroyed," Mr. Brown said. "The adverse effects on their careers and their individual lives have been devastating."

Clinton R. Coleman, the mayor's press secretary, said the mayor had no comment on the claim.

Others named in the claim are Mr. Janey and city State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms. Mr. Janey couldn't be reached for comment yesterday. Mr. Simms declined to discuss the claim, saying, "I have no knowledge of it, and I'm not going to comment on anything I haven't seen."

The raid was at the Northwest Baltimore home of Ronald E. Hollie, who is married to a cousin of Mayor Schmoke's wife. The three officers, then assigned to the Northwest District Drug Enforcement Unit, broke down the front door and raided the home looking for cocaine.

No drugs were found, and no arrests were made. Officer Constantine said he had targeted the house for the raid after an informant told him he bought drugs from a man who visited the home.

Officer Constantine later claimed it was possible that the informant may have provided the police with false information in order to embarrass them in a fruitless raid.

The raid brought immediate anger from the mayor, who was campaigning for re-election at the time and said "I smell a rat." He asked city Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods to investigate.

In the months afterward, police internal affairs officers and prosecutors examined more than 150 search warrants that had been written by five of the officers on the Hollie raid.

That examination turned up a total of six raids that were carried out after the officers had allegedly lied on the search warrant applications.

The officers were charged with perjury, but the charges were later dropped when Circuit Court Judge Andre Davis ruled that the violations were not willful violations of the law and were more likely well-meaning attempts to expedite the search-and-seizure process.

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