Police net one of own in print mix-up Responding officer's fingerprints lead to erroneous charges

April 08, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

City police investigating the June break-in at Rosa Parker's Northwest Baltimore home thought they had their man.

But their man turned out to be one of their own -- the same officer who had responded to the complaint and left his fingerprints behind.

Officer William Scott Kern was criminally charged with burglary in December. By mistake. And it took four months before anyone realized it. As recently as last week officers tried to serve an arrest warrant at Kern's Baltimore County home.

"Embarrassing," said a supervisor in the burglary unit, who said the detective should have dug a little deeper before deciding he had solved the case.

"I think it's just something that leaked through the cracks. The detective made a mistake."

Though the break-in was reported June 25, the fingerprint hit didn't come back until November. The warrant against the 30-year-old Northwestern District officer was filed Dec. 6.

The mistake wasn't corrected until Friday, when a judge recalled the warrant, after a police supervisor filled out a court document asking that the arrest order be rescinded. The supervisor simply wrote: "William Scott Kern is the wrong person."

Kern, through his district commander, Maj. Errol L. Dutton, declined to talk about the case.

"He said it is a mistake and that he has put it behind him," the major said.

The case began the afternoon of June 25, when Officer David Rosenblatt responded to Parker's house in the 3500 block of Ingleside Ave. for a burglar alarm sounding. Kern arrived a few minutes later as backup.

The officers noticed an open dining room window and back door. Rosenblatt's police report says someone had used lawn chairs to scale the house and get in through the window, and then left through the back door. A bottle of cognac and $5 in change were taken.

A Crime Lab technician dusted for fingerprints on the dining room window and frame, the kitchen and storm door and plant pot that was in a window. A traceable thumbprint was lifted from the door.

Five months later, the print was matched to Kern. Detective Ronald Willis -- who could not be reached for comment -- called Parker, who told him that she did not know Kern.

Further suspicion was raised because Kern had been issued a state identification number, which was assigned when he applied for a job with a private security firm.

"Based on this information, Detective Willis obtained a warrant charging William S. Kern with burglary," according to a memo from Sgt. Jerome E. Greer, explaining the case to his supervisors.

Parker first heard of the mix-up yesterday from a reporter. She said a detective called her last week and told her they had solved her case, and even offered to show her a picture of the suspect.

"I'm glad it's straightened out," she said. "I feel sorry for Officer Kern."

So does the city Police Department. The burglary supervisor noted that a quick check of the file by the detective "would have precluded the whole thing. It's closed as far as we're concerned. We certainly apologize to the officer."

Pub Date: 4/08/97

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