1994 police raid on The Block criticized in court Women allege false arrest and civil rights violations

September 28, 1996|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

The infamous raid of The Block that brought more discredit to the state police than it did to Baltimore's seedy red-light district got a day of criticism in Baltimore Circuit Court yesterday, where two women are suing for false arrest and civil rights violations.

Laura Beth Wolff, who had been a dancer, claims police never identified themselves when they barged into the Mouse Trap lounge with guns drawn Jan. 14, 1994, causing her to stumble down stairs and fracture her right ankle. She was never charged, and her injuries caused her to have a miscarriage three days later, she claimed.

And Joanne Dunay, a bartender at the Mouse Trap, said police kept her in excessively tight handcuffs for five hours and charged her with drug violations after they found pills in her purse. But police later dropped the charges after the drugs turned out to be extra-strength Tylenol, sleeping pills and prescribed medication for her hay fever.

"The police officers' behavior bordered on criminal," said Jeff E. Messing, the attorney representing both women. "They went in thinking one thing, and when it didn't work out, they took it out on the people at the bar, who were powerless to stop them."

Several employees of the Mouse Trap in the first block of Custom House Ave. testified yesterday that they initially believed the bar was being robbed by a gang of black-sweatered thugs on the night of the raid.

"They just came flying in the front door and ran right on by. They didn't identify themselves," said doorman Robert McKenzie. "I thought the place was getting robbed. They shoved me against the wall."

Officers maintained in their testimony yesterday that police were yelling, "State police!" and "State police search warrant!" when they crashed into 24 clubs. Many of them wore jackets that said "POLICE" on the back.

Five-hundred troopers took part in the raid, which state police supervisors initially heralded as a well-heeled effort to take down illegal activity in The Block -- the 400 block of E. Baltimore St.

But credibility problems have hampered the operation since, with undercover detectives criticized for spending lavishly and showering dancers with thousands of tax dollars for tips and drinks during the investigation.

Wolff will testify Monday about her experience in the raid, in which she was handcuffed for about an hour and was denied permission to seek medical treatment after stumbling on the stairs. After she was taken to Mercy Medical Center by ambulance, she learned of the fracture and that she was pregnant, the lawsuit contends.

She and her husband had been trying to conceive a baby, the suit said. But three days later, while recuperating from her ankle injury and "severe mental stress," she had a miscarriage, the suit said.

Pub Date: 9/28/96

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