'Aggressive cop' reflects on a bust that proved costly

February 22, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Albert Marcus, the Baltimore policeman who called himself Mad Dog when he thought it gave him stature, sat in a dim courthouse hallway last week and tried to sell himself in a way that a Circuit Court jury wasn't buying.

"I'm an aggressive cop," he said, as if that explained everything.

A few feet away, his partner, Christopher Cooper, nodded in somber agreement. Yes, he said, that was the word: aggressive. But, out of earshot, a jury was deciding otherwise, making a dramatic distinction between aggressiveness and brutal behavior in a bad ticket-scalping arrest of an innocent Harford County schoolteacher named Benjamin Orlando. He will suffer the arrest for the remainder of his life.

"These two police," Orlando's attorney, Arnold Weiner, had declared, "disgraced themselves and their uniform."

Over 10 days, testimony (outlined here Sunday) had been frightening, detailing how Orlando, a small, bespectacled, 47-year old science teacher, had sold four Orioles tickets at face value two years ago at Camden Yards and, against clear evidence that he'd done nothing wrong, had not only been treated like a criminal, but mistreated beyond civilized bounds.

Orlando described being locked behind bars in handcuffs pulled so tight that they left him with permanent nerve damage in his thumbs; described vulgar, abusive language from the officers; described how the officers had slammed his head into a police van.

There was also this: The officers had statements from the four people who bought Orlando's tickets at face value. They could have backed up Orlando's story. Somehow, the officers "lost" those names.

Scalping charges against Orlando were dropped, when city prosecutors belatedly realized he'd done nothing wrong. And last week, a jury found Marcus and Cooper guilty of false arrest and imprisonment, and awarded Orlando more than $500,000.

And so a question hangs in the air: Why did such a horror happen?

"We were easy with him," said Cooper, "and this is what we get in return."

"We're aggressive police," Marcus was saying, as he and Cooper stood outside Judge Thomas Noel's courtroom.

He was putting it mildly. In eight years on the force, Cooper's arrested about 2,000 people, mostly in narcotics and weapons cases, the vast number of whom were convicted. He's been awarded a Bronze Star. He's now with the department's Violent Crimes Task Force. These are the markings of an aggressive cop.

In 18 years with the department, Marcus has nearly 6,000 arrests. He's got a string of commendations, including two Bronze Stars, and has twice been nominated for Policeman of the Year. After years working narcotics, he's now working homicide cases.

While he awaited the verdict last week, Marcus remembered days when he worked out of the city's Northwestern District. Drug dealers, he said, would call the station house and ask if "Mad Dog" -- the name was so well-known that he had it on his license tags -- would be working the streets that night. He told the story with much pride. It meant people found him frightening.

"We're not like those 7-Eleven cops," Marcus said. "You know, police who park their cars at the 7-Eleven and hang out there, drinking coffee and reading the sex magazines until they get a call somewhere. That's not the way we are."

The record backs him up. He and Cooper both talked, in detail, about hand-to-hand buys they'd made to bust narcotics dealers, about tough situations they'd faced routinely. And yet, just a few feet away stood Ben Orlando, honest and harmless.

The city's a dangerous place. Hours after the verdict was returned, Cooper said he and Marcus were getting wonderful support from fellow officers. The cops all feel they're up

against it, that nobody quite understands the dangers they face.

And they're right. But the police have enough real problems without creating artificial ones: mistreating innocent people, and then covering up in court, and then wondering why people in the community don't understand them.

At trial's end, Marcus approached Ben Orlando and said, "I don't know if you have any hard feelings, but I don't have any hard feelings. It was just circumstances."

But they were circumstances that shouldn't have happened, and they were words that didn't quite amount to an apology.

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