A Baltimore police officer was acquitted yesterday on charges of raping a woman while searching her home for an auto theft suspect.
The jury's verdict, reached in less than an hour, prompted renewed criticism of Baltimore prosecutors' handling of criminal allegations against police officers.
After being cleared on all counts by the jury, Officer George S. Cannida III called his prosecution a "political case" that should not have come to trial.
Officer Cannida suggested that his indictment, which occurred soon after two deaths in police custody last summer, was political and meant to be an appeasement to the community. "Let's give the citizens of Baltimore a police officer to calm them down," he said.
Officer Cannida's lawyer and the president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police lodge said the case was the latest in which city prosecutors yielded to "political" concerns and forged ahead with cases later found to be without merit.
Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms said he usually takes allegations against police to a grand jury because of the community's skepticism about police and their methods.
The critics, Mr. Simms said, must "pull their heads out of the sand and see the realities of how they are perceived. . . . There is no prejudice against an individual citizen, no prejudice against a police officer."
Jurors said the prosecutors did not have enough evidence to convict Officer Cannida. Juror Michael Probst said key factors in the verdict were inconsistencies in the prosecution case and Officer Cannida's explanation for a key piece of prosecution evidence -- his fingerprint on a condom wrapper recovered from the woman's Hollander Ridge home.
The accuser told the jury the officer tore the condom from its package, put it on and raped her. The officer said he touched the wrapper while confronting the woman about her claims that her boyfriend, the auto theft suspect, had not been in the house.
In arguing for the officer's acquittal, defense lawyer Henry L. Belsky told the jury that the woman's rape accusation was in retaliation for Officer Cannida's attempt to lock up her boyfriend and because he had previously arrested the woman and, in an unrelated matter, her ex-husband. He also pointed to a doctor's examination of the woman which showed a vaginal abrasion but no other signs of a rape.
Mr. Belsky, a Fraternal Order of Police lawyer who frequently represents officers charged with wrongdoing, and Gary McLhinney, president of the city's FOP lodge, said the case was the latest in which city prosecutors yielded to political concerns and forged ahead with cases.
Referring to the accuser in the case, a 27-year-old woman living in public housing, Mr. Belsky said, "I think it is the fashionable thing to root for the underdog in cases like this, so they took it before the grand jury so that they wouldn't be criticized for sweeping the underdog under the rug."
Sharon A. H. May, the Cannida case prosecutor and head of the office's sex offense unit, defended her decision to proceed with the case.
"If all I had was the statement of the victim, it would have been a very different situation. But I had an abrasion and a fingerprint on a condom wrapper. I had to take this case to the grand jury," she said.