Former state's attorney seeks to expunge report Grand jury contended drug probes thwarted

November 06, 1995|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Former Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms is asking a judge to nullify the report of a 1992 city grand jury that accused his office of thwarting drug investigations involving high-profile suspects, contending the report badly damaged his reputation.

In a petition filed last week in Baltimore Circuit Court, Mr. Simms and current State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy say the 23-member panel exceeded its authority in the report, which also alleged that the city Police Department focused on low-level drug arrests instead of bigger targets and that federal grants meant for drug enforcement were misspent on police overtime.

The grand jury asked for an independent prosecutor to investigate its charges. But, according to documents filed with the expungement request, State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli found no basis for any of the allegations.

Mrs. Jessamy joined the petition on behalf of the state's attorney's office, which also is asking that the report be destroyed.

Assistant Attorney General Kathleen S. Hoke, who represents Mr. Simms and Mrs. Jessamy, said the intent was "not to eliminate every copy ever made" of the public version of the report, but for the judge to order the expunction as a statement that the grand jury went too far.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed Mr. Simms secretary of the state Department of Juvenile Services this year. But Ms. Hoke said Mr. Simms, who repeatedly has blasted the panel's report as unfair and amateurish, may have lost an appointment in the Clinton administration because of the allegations, which surfaced shortly after the president took office.

Efforts to reach Mr. Simms were unsuccessful.

A 1927 Maryland Court of Appeals case approved the expunction of a grand jury report that criticized a city supervising engineer and the Public Improvement Commission for work performed on public school buildings. In that case, the court said grand juries may issue reports condemning general conditions they believe exist. But they may not publicly excoriate individual officials unless probable cause is shown.

The grand jury undertook its six-month investigation in response to a charge from Judge Kenneth Lavon Johnson to look into disparities in the investigation and prosecution of drug crimes. Specifically, the judge lamented what he called a pattern of wholesale drug dealers not being brought to justice.

But he cautioned the grand jurors not to "condemn the acts or impugn the motives of any individual in any report of its investigation."

Judge Johnson would not comment specifically on Mr. Simms' request for the report's expunction. But he said he still felt justified in his charge to the panel.

"I consider Stu Simms and [Mayor]Kurt Schmoke to be great public servants and to be my friends," Judge Johnson said. "I never set out to hurt them; I set out to look at a problem that we have. The problem is much too big for them. The problem is a nationwide problem. Anyone who would take that personally would, I think, just make a mistake.

"I charged the grand jury to take a look at a problem, and if you would read the charge I gave to the grand jury and look at what we have today three years later, I think one would have to conclude somebody had to take a look somewhere."

The panel submitted its full report in early 1993 to Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, administrative judge of the Baltimore Circuit Court. Judge Kaplan ordered the full report sealed, but he permitted an edited version to be made public.

The report said the Police Department had a policy of rotating police investigators out of its drug unit when they targeted prominent people. The grand jury said it had found "gross misconduct" by police and prosecutors. However, it stopped short of issuing any criminal indictments.

In a final report to Toni C. Talbott, assistant forewoman of the grand jury, Mr. Montanarelli wrote in August 1994 that he "found no evidence to substantiate such statements. They should not have been published."

"Although a grand jury may comment on general conditions in the criminal justice system, it is quite another matter when it accuses public officials of misconduct without indictments," Mr. Montanarelli wrote, noting that officials such as Mr. Simms clearly were maligned personally by the panel's statements.

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