A Howard circuit judge threw out much of the evidence against a drug suspect yesterday, saying the man was arrested simply because he had a "suspicious look in his eye."
Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr. criticized the way the man was arrested, how police detectives obtained a statement from him and why officers reviewed the man's picture before a pretrial hearing.
In his ruling yesterday, Judge Sybert said the suspect, Gregory Pernel Williams Sr., 25, of Baltimore, was arrested illegally.
"It appears that Mr. Williams was arrested because he had a suspicious look in his eye," the judge said. "The court holds that the officers did not have the probable cause necessary to effectuate a warrantless arrest at the time Mr. Williams was placed on the floor and handcuffed at gunpoint."
Sgt. Steven Keller, a spokesman for the police department, declined to comment on the ruling, saying police officials had not reviewed it. "If the judge's ruling is critical of procedures up here, I'm sure we will look at them," Sergeant Keller said.
Assistant State's Attorney Robert Voss also declined to comment. He said he will check with his supervisors to determine how to proceed.
Mr. Williams' attorney, Clarke Ahlers of Columbia, said he expects prosecutors to drop the charges against his client. "I feel their case is effectively gutted," he said.
Mr. Williams was arrested during an April 15 police raid at the Abbott House apartment building in Columbia. He was charged with three drug possession counts.
While police were entering the building, one officer saw a man watching from a second-floor window, according to testimony at a pretrial hearing during the summer.
Once inside, the officers found Mr. Williams on the building's third floor and decided he had been the man watching from the second-story window, allegedly as a lookout for the three other drug suspects who were the target of the drug raid.
The officers found a bag of cocaine, which they said belonged to Mr. Williams, in a second-floor trash room. They did not find his fingerprints on the bag. The officers testified that they held Mr. Williams to determine whether he was wanted on any arrest warrants.
In yesterday's ruling, Judge Sybert acknowledged that police officers are permitted to seize a suspect without formally arresting him. But police needed more than suspicion to hold Mr. Williams, he said.
By ruling the arrest illegal, Judge Sybert is barring prosecutors from using a statement Mr. Williams made after his apprehension. Police testified that Mr. Williams told them, "You've got what I have."
Judge Sybert also noted that one of the detectives who questioned Mr. Williams testified that the suspect signed a waiver form allowing police to interview him, but the detective could not present the form. The detective later said Mr. Williams never signed such a form.
If the case goes to trial, Judge Sybert said, he will permit only one of the half-dozen officers involved in Mr. Williams' arrest to identify him as the suspect seen at Abbott House.
The judge is prohibiting the other officers from identifying Mr. Williams because they violated a sequestration order when they reviewed the suspect's picture before testifying at a pretrial hearing.
Although most of Judge Sybert's ruling was in favor of Mr. Williams, the judge granted the prosecution's request to seal police records of an internal investigation of a former property room clerk who handled the drugs seized from Mr. Williams. The clerk, who has resigned from the department, admitted to supervisors that he participated in a drug deal in Baltimore last spring.
Mr. Ahlers argued at hearings that the records should be turned over to him to determine whether the clerk tampered with the drugs seized as evidence against Mr. Williams.
Judge Sybert, who reviewed the department's reports on the internal investigation, said the issue is irrelevant to Mr. Williams' case.