Battle in glass houses Councilman feuds with police chief

hypocrisy is winner

March 23, 1997|By PETER HERMANN

As city leaders hash out the best way to end the violence that is gripping Baltimore, two of the most vocal debaters are engaged in their own war of words:

Who is the bigger hypocrite?

The police chief for accepting money from a think tank that promotes decriminalizing drugs? Or a city councilman who loudly champions zero-tolerance policing, yet as a lawyer gets his clients off on drug and gun charges?

Both sides - police commanders speaking for Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier and City Councilman Martin O'Malley - are using the local media to press their views.

O'Malley is shopping a video of Frazier accepting a $1,500 award from the Drug Policy Foundation in Washington and telling an approving crowd that arresting drug addicts isn't the way to fight the drug war.

"I don't think it's appropriate," said O'Malley, who likened Frazier accepting the award to him taking "lunch money from a gunman standing on the corner." Portions of the video were aired Monday night on the local Fox, WBFF-TV.

Meanwhile, top police commanders handed out police reports on the arrest of a manager of an after-hours strip club who they said had an illegal .45-caliber handgun and had the charges dropped with O'Malley as his lawyer.

"It's hypocritical," said one top police official, who would only speak without being named. "He runs around day and night preaching zero tolerance and for a hundred bucks an hour he goes out and gets people off on gun charges."

The two city officials have debated their views for months. O'Malley has called for Frazier's resignation and demanded that the chief copy New York's style of zero-tolerance policing that is widely credited for that city's plunging crime rates.

Frazier, who maintains he needs more police officers and sweeping judicial reforms to implement such reforms, has ordered his officers to go after guns and violent criminals instead of arresting addicts holding small amounts of drugs.

Speaking at the Drug Policy Foundation in November, Frazier said departments can hire more officers and build more jails - by raising taxes - or "have a rational discussion about another way to do what we have been doing."

The chief said he does not expect his officers to make "low-level drug possession cases a priority in this police department."

"Let's do positive things and work in another way to deal with the drug policy issue, because clearly what we have been doing hasn't worked," he said.

At the end of his remarks, the president of the foundation, Arnold S. Trebach, is seen on the tape saying: "We're making progress, one chief at a time."

O'Malley called Frazier's remarks inappropriate. "This commissioner comes into [City Hall] and says the key is to shut down these open-air drug markets.

"He moves from that point all the way to the other extreme - it is out of control and there are only two ways to go: One we can't afford and the other is decriminalization. He speaks out of both sides of his mouth."

Police spokesman Sam Ringgold said Frazier gave his $1,500 award to his Police Athletic League program. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke - who is on the institute's board of directors - donated a similar award he received a few years ago to city schools.

"The commissioner in no way is proposing decriminalization," Ringgold said, adding that Frazier was recognized for seeking alternative ways to deal with the drug issue. "It's not all lock them up and throw away the key. He is saying what has all these arrests amount to: not much."

Frazier has made a point of going after guns, and he has not been shy about criticizing judges and prosecutors.

In January, he sternly warned State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy: "I told her, 'I'm tracking every single gun case. If you start dropping them, watch out.'"

Police commanders are particularly angry about one of O'Malley's clients, Michael D. Conner, who was arrested on Nov. 14 at an after-hours club called "Colossal," in the 1000 block of Hillen St.

Officers and housing officials raided the club and said they found 15 women who, according to the police report, were "dressed in erotic attire, gyrating to the music" and accepting tips for sitting on men's laps.

Police said Conner, 35, the club manager, was arrested after officers found him carrying a .45-caliber handgun. Police said the suspect did not have a permit to carry the weapon.

Prosecutors dropped a gun-possession charge at a court hearing on Dec. 26. O'Malley said that his client is exempted from the requirement for a carry permit for the weapon because it was used at a place of business. He said Conner should not have been arrested and charged in the first place.

Conner did not return phone calls. He filed paperwork in court Monday to have the case expunged, which would erase any record of his arrest from public court files.

A police commander said O'Malley's work as a lawyer representing such clients doesn't mesh with the hard line he takes as a politician.

"Who's sending a bigger mixed message?" the commander asked. "He wants us to go out and round up all the people on the corners for anything, and he's getting them off on the charges."

A review by The Sun of 65 cases in which O'Malley was a defense lawyer shows that he has handled three gun cases since 1992. All were dropped by prosecutors.

He also has defended 13 drug suspects. Four of the cases were placed on an inactive docket, one was dropped, two suspects were found not guilty and four were convicted. Two cases are pending.

"If the government can't prove its case, I will do what I can to help my clients," O'Malley said. "I have a good deal of problems with the Police Department distributing names of citizens to the press for political purposes.

"Is [the commissioner] calling me a bad councilman or is he saying I'm a good lawyer?"

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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