No case suspect has jail-tight alibi

May 11, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County prosecutors dropped charges yesterday against a 25-year-old man who had been accused of selling drugs to two undercover police officers in Severn over the winter. The reason was one problem with the case.

At the time of the drug sale, the defendant was in jail.

Two county detectives identified Charles Herbert Tongue as the suspect who sold them four-tenths of a gram of crack cocaine, worth $40, when they drove in an undercover police car to the 1600 block of Circle Road in Severn on Nov. 22, 1993.

But court and prison records proved that Tongue had been in the county Detention Center since May 7, serving an 18-month sentence, imposed by Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr., for possession with intent to distribute drugs.

John H. Robinson III, assistant state's attorney, dropped the charges after Tongue's lawyer showed him copies of the records.

Tongue was charged in a warrant issued a few days after Detectives Diane Venit and William George, both assigned to the Western District, made the purchase, went back to the station and picked Tongue's photo out of a collection of mug shots.

"Both detectives positively identified the suspect," Detective Venit's report said.

Tongue's lawyer, Gary Christopher, said yesterday that the case underscores the potential for mistakes in eyewitness identifications and shows that police officers are as prone to mistakes as anyone.

"It obviously happens, and I think it happens more often than people like to think it could happen," he said.

Police could not explain the incident yesterday.

Detective Venit said she did not have access to any reliable records that would have shown that Tongue was in jail at the time of the drug sale.

Officer Randy Bell, police spokesman, said that Capt. Timothy Bowman, commander of the Western District, was trying to sort out what happened and would have an explanation by today.

Mr. Robinson said it was a case of mistaken identity.

"Chances are the detectives bought drugs from someone whose looks were pretty darned close to the defendant's," Mr. Robinson said. "Some people do look alike."

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