Link to police probe stymies drug charge

May 25, 1994|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writer

Prosecutors dropped drug charges yesterday against a West Baltimore man -- apparently the latest case tainted by an internal police investigation into possible corruption in the drug enforcement unit of the city's Western District.

Charges against Darryl A. Payton were dismissed during a hearing in Baltimore Circuit Court after his lawyer sought to subpoena records of the investigation of Officer Stanley Gasque and other former members of the district's drug squad.

It was the second time in a week that charges had been dropped in a case involving Officer Gasque and other former members of the unit as witnesses. Since August, when news of the corruption probe broke, 14 defendants in Baltimore Circuit Court cases involving the unit's former officers have seen their charges dismissed or placed on the inactive docket.

Still, Payton, 28, won't go free. He was sentenced this month to eight years in prison for assault.

The Western District investigation continues, police spokesman Sam Ringgold said yesterday.

City police officials revamped the district's drug squad last summer after repeated complaints about possible corruption, including allegations that an officer was involved with a drug ring, that officers pocketed cash seized from drug dealers and that an officer fabricated information for a search warrant. Officers also were accused of burglarizing one suspect's home.

The turmoil in the unit hurt narcotics enforcement efforts in one of Baltimore's most drug-ridden areas, authorities said then.

Officer Gasque has denied any wrongdoing.

During a brief hearing yesterday in Circuit Court, prosecutor Richard H. Boucher Jr. announced that he was dismissing the case against Payton, who had been charged with possession of heroin with the intent to distribute. When Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman asked for an explanation, Mr. Boucher approached the judge for an off-the-record bench conference.

During that conference, Mr. Boucher cited the corruption investigation as his reason for dropping the case, said Assistant Public Defender Flynn Owens. Attempts to obtain comment from Mr. Boucher, who was in a trial yesterday, were unsuccessful.

Noting that Officer Gasque helped write the search warrant application that led to a May 11, 1993, raid on a house in the 1900 block of Harlem Ave. -- and to Payton's arrest -- Mr. Owens said, "Since my guy wasn't there during the raid holding a whole bucket of drugs, the case boiled down to [the officers'] credibility."

Payton, who has convictions for handgun violations, said of the drug activity at the Harlem Avenue house, "I didn't have anything to do with it."

A week ago, drug charges were dismissed against Tacuma Ja Ja Yasin, 19, of West Baltimore in a case involving former Western District drug squad officers. Charges have been dismissed or placed on the inactive docket against 14 of 38 defendants scheduled to go to trial since August in cases involving the former drug squad officers.

Cases in which the officers under investigation played relatively minor roles are typically salvaged by prosecutors, defense lawyers said yesterday. But cases in which the officers obtained search warrants or directly observed drug activity are usually on shaky ground, the lawyers said.

The result, according to the lawyers: dismissed charges or attractive plea bargains for defendants.

Mr. Owens is one of at least four defense lawyers who filed pretrial motions to obtain the file of the internal police investigation -- including portions pertaining to the suspicious death of a police trainee who had been implicated in the alleged burglary of a suspect's home.

When attorneys for the man who said police burglarized his home sought documents relating to the probe of Officer Gasque, prosecutors dropped all charges. But when defense lawyers tried the same approach in a West Baltimore man's drug case, the man received a 15-month sentence.

A similar motion was filed in the cases of two other West Baltimore men -- one man's case was dismissed, the other is awaiting trial.

Asked why he filed the motion, Assistant Public Defender John C. M. Angelos replied, "To impeach the credibility of the police officers."

Mr. Ringgold, the police spokesman, said Officer Gasque was reassigned to work as a turnkey in the Western District lockup.

Other former members of the drug unit now work on a special squad that patrols "hot spots" such as open-air drug markets, Mr. Ringgold said.

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