Ball in Frazier's Court

February 25, 1994

What is Thomas C. Frazier, Baltimore's new police commissioner, going to do about it?

That question is certainly on the lips of many people following a pair of recent columns in The Sun by Michael Olesker about the brutal treatment of a 47-year-old Harford County school teacher at the hands of a couple of city police officers.

Last week, a Circuit Court jury awarded the teacher, Benjamin Orlando, $520,000 for his false arrest and imprisonment. He also suffered permanent injury on that mid-May night in 1992 when he was arrested by officers Albert Marcus and Christopher Cooper. Mr. Orlando had just sold four baseball tickets at face value outside Oriole Park when the officers arrested him for scalping, which he was not. But even if he had been illegally selling tickets for a profit outside the stadium, the treatment by police was outrageous. The officers smashed the man's head as they pushed him into a police van. They cursed at him. And they so tightened his handcuffs (while ignoring his pleas that they be loosened) that Mr. Orlando was left with permanent nerve damage. His wife must button his shirts now, and he can't build miniature cars for his son as he did before.

The scalping charges against Mr. Orlando were dropped before the case went to criminal court, and he was found to be grievously injured in civil court. Now the ball's in the police department's court.

Upon reading Mr. Olesker's column, Commissioner Frazier ordered the department's internal investigation division to look into the matter. Why that did not happen during the past two years, before Thomas Frazier arrived last month from California, is testament to the systemic breakdown in the Baltimore police department that Sun reporter David Simon detailed in a series of articles earlier this month. Even though an attorney for Mr. Orlando wrote then-Commissioner Edward Woods (as well as the mayor and state's attorney) about the incident a month after it happened, and even though the civil suit was filed a year ago, the police ignored a moral, if not legal, responsibility to look into this case internally. The two officers were never punished; one, in fact, was promoted.

This case makes it ever more clear why Commissioner Frazier's first act here was to have the internal investigations unit report to him, rather than a deputy. Commissioner Frazier was "visibly upset" about the Olesker columns, a spokesman said: "His reaction said he's not going to tolerate it."

While this case must first wend through formal channels, it presents the new commissioner with an opportunity to send a message to a police force in need of strong leadership and to a city that is longing for it.

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