Schmoke criticizes Block raid

March 16, 1994|By Scott Higham and John Frece | Scott Higham and John Frece,Sun Staff Writers

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke distanced himself yesterday from the state police investigation and raid of The Block, but Gov. William Donald Schaefer defended the operation and ridiculed a Sun article that included reports of troopers' misconduct.

Mr. Schmoke criticized the Jan. 14 raid carried out by nearly a third of the state police force.

"It's a combination of the size and the way in which it was conducted and the results," Mayor Schmoke, a former prosecutor, said in an interview. "It was a different kind of operation and one that I've said in many different forums that should not be repeated."

The governor acknowledged reports of police misconduct, including claims that two officers solicited a prostitute on The Block. Speaking at a weekly State House news conference, he said the state police are conducting "a thorough investigation" and pledged that there "won't be a cover-up."

If the reports turn out to be true, he said, "appropriate action will be taken."

But the governor said the raid was justified and productive. He reacted bitterly to the criticism of the state police operation, saying The Sun was siding with gunrunners, drug dealers and prostitutes.

"The local newspaper in the city challenges what we did," Mr. Schaefer said. "It has made a hero out of The Block, and out of heroin dealers and out of prostitutes."

He was responding to an article that detailed a series of questions concerning the conduct of state undercover officers during the four-month investigation, the way the raid was carried out and the quality of the resulting criminal cases.

The Sun reported Tuesday that three undercover officers are under investigation by state police internal affairs detectives. According to interviews with workers on The Block and with state police, two officers solicited a prostitute in one of the bars and another spent the night in a hotel with a female bartender who was married to an owner of a bar targeted in the investigation.

The newspaper also reported that undercover officers spent nearly $201,000 in state and federal tax dollars to finance the probe and $165,400 more for the raid; that 95 percent of the arrests involved misdemeanor drug possession charges, low-level drug purchases and warrants on unrelated charges; and that dozens of people were searched during the raid without being named in police warrants.

Reading from a three-page briefing paper prepared by state police, Mr. Schaefer listed what he called the benefits of the investigation and raid, including the filing of about 650 criminal charges, 365 of them felonies.

The governor criticized The Sun for focusing on the claims of police misconduct.

"I know The Block," said the governor, a former Baltimore mayor. "The reporters went down for one thing: to discredit the state police."

Mr. Schmoke said he had little to do with the decision to summon state troopers to Baltimore to conduct the undercover drug investigation. That decision was reached by police supervisors, he said, not politicians.

"I was not involved in that," the mayor said.

Deputy Police Commissioner Melvin McQuay said yesterday that made the decision.

He said he received a call from state police Superintendent Larry Tolliver last fall with an offer to help with various drug investigations in the city. Mr. McQuay, who was acting commissioner at the time, said he told Colonel Tolliver that state police could investigate The Block.

Colonel Tolliver did not return requests for comment yesterday.

State and city lawmakers said yesterday that the troopers' time could have been better spent.

Sen. John A. Pica Jr., a Democrat who is chairman of the city's Senate delegation, said, "I don't have a problem with the raid itself as much as I do with the way it may have been carried out. These are some very serious allegations, which will have to be answered by the state police."

Mr. Pica and other city lawmakers said that regardless of any misconduct by state police, that they would have preferred the troopers to focus on other areas of the city where violence and drug dealing are more prevalent.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke said that "if the state police are available, we'd like them to work on our drug corners and get those corners cleaned up."

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a city Democrat who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee, agreed, saying state police involvement in city law enforcement efforts should be modeled after a successful experiment at a public housing complex on Newtowne Drive in Annapolis.

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