Because of a poorly filmed videotape of a sting operation, Baltimore prosecutors have dropped charges against a city police officer arrested last year for allegedly extorting protection money from a drug dealer.
Officer Alan S. Johnson Jr., 28, who had been charged with felony extortion and suspended without pay after his Sept. 8 arrest, is back on the payroll and assigned to desk duty, police said.
In a Feb. 22 memo signed by Deputy Commissioner Michael C. Zotos, the officer was ordered to be restored to duty. The memo also stated that his police powers should remain suspended, which means that he cannot carry a badge or gun.
The key problem for prosecutors was the poor quality of a videotape that purported to show Officer Johnson taking a $3,000 payoff from a drug dealer he had threatened to arrest, investigators said.
The videotape, filmed by a state trooper during an undercover city police operation, was fuzzy and appeared to have been shot from too far away, said a police official close to the investigation.
Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms wouldn't comment on the quality of the film, but said, "There were a number of evidentiary concerns relating to the case. In light of those concerns, we felt it was inappropriate to proceed."
He said he has recommended that the Police Department continue its internal investigation into Officer Johnson's conduct.
Agent Doug Price, a city police spokesman, said that investigation is continuing.
Officer Johnson has been assigned to administrative duties in the police force's marine unit, said Mr. Price.
The unit provides security for waterfront areas, recovers drowning victims and assists in water rescues.
Officer Johnson was arrested last September in an alley behind the 1300 block of Bradford Ave., police said.
A drug dealer-turned-police informant had just dumped $3,000 into the rear of his patrol car, a payment that the officer allegedly demanded as protection money, court records said.
In conversations monitored by investigators, Officer Johnson, a four-year veteran assigned to the Eastern District, told the informant that the payoff would protect members of the drug organization from arrest, court records said.
According to documents filed in court, the unidentified informant told police that Officer Johnson had "previously taken money" from him to allow his narcotics operation to continue.