Simms backs changes after indictment controversy

April 09, 1994|By Michael James | Michael James,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms said yesterday that he favored new approaches to investigating police-involved shootings, which he argued are volatile cases that can become clouded in secret grand jury proceedings.

Mr. Simms -- who became embroiled in controversy this week for his handling of a grand jury investigation into a shooting involving two city police officers -- said one possibility might be a task force created to review police shootings.

Such a task force would operate publicly, in contrast to the grand jury, whose investigative actions are secret by law.

"I would support some kind of change in the investigative process. Because of the current secrecy aspect, the public doesn't get to see the full scope of the evidence," Mr. Simms said. "I think the public needs that if it is going to have confidence in police officers and our investigations of them."

Mr. Simms said he envisioned that the task force would not replace the grand jury process -- which he emphasized is still a legitimate form of investigation -- but would "simply provide us with another avenue, rather than just the grand jury."

Another option would be for police agencies to hire consultants from other police departments who would examine officer-related shootings and the issues surrounding deadly force by police, Mr. Simms said. He added that he once opposed the idea of civilian review for police shootings, but is now warming to the idea.

"You don't want to create another layer of bureaucracy. But something like this can be valuable to assist [a police department] in looking at a particular case," he said.

The use of the grand jury became a sticky point for the state's attorney this week during confusion over whether a grand jury had indicted city police Officers Lewis G. Yamin, 28, and Stephen C. Nalewajko, 38.

The officers were being investigated in the Feb. 2 fatal shooting of Anthony Darryl Redd, a man paroled for manslaughter who struggled with the officers on an East Baltimore street. He was shot twice, once with his .357-caliber Magnum and once by one of the officers.

Mr. Simms called lawyers for the officers Wednesday night to notify them an indictment was about to be returned charging the officers with second-degree murder and that they should be prepared to surrender the next morning.

Mr. Simms also notified the mother of Mr. Redd. He said he told her that it was likely charges would be brought in the morning and that she should call him.

"I made certain contacts that I felt were appropriate. The grand jury had made an inquiry to me that they were preparing for final action," Mr. Simms said. "They asked for a definition of murder in the second degree and, based on that, the process began to prepare a [charging] document to so review."

He said while the grand jury had not made a final decision, he said he believed the charges were forthcoming and notified those involved.

The attorneys readied their clients for the indictments and expressed outrage in the media that the case had been taken before the grand jury. Several police officers threatened protests outside City Hall. The Sun reported in Thursday's paper, based on interviews with sources close to the investigation, that the officers had been indicted.

But that morning, Mr. Simms said he received a surprise announcement by Circuit Judge Edward J. Angeletti, the judge overseeing the grand jury.

"He said, 'I understand that you are prepared to make a statement.' I said, 'Yes, I am and I intend to proceed shortly.' And he said, 'There has been no official return. Please wait until you are officially informed,' " Mr. Simms recalled.

He was later told the grand jury decided not to indict the officers.

Asked if he was surprised, Mr. Simms said flatly, "It gave me great pause."

Judge Angeletti refused to be interviewed. The grand jury has not explained why it leaned toward a second-degree murder charge only to decide not to indict.

Mr. Simms said he didn't have any regrets about sending the case to the grand jury, or about the way he handled phone calls to those involved.

But he said he would like to see "more availability of information" from the grand jury.

"From the public's perspective, it's sometimes difficult to analyze because the information is not available. I think we should ask ourselves, to what extent can we expand the options," he said.

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