2 officers suffer for convictions long ago They are among 35 suspended by Frazier

September 19, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

More than a quarter-century ago, two years before Sgt. Lloyd W. Green joined the city Police Department, he was convicted of hitting his wife in an argument over money. Yesterday, he was suspended for it.

The sergeant, who was hired in 1973, is one of two Baltimore officers who are affected by a new federal law that prohibits anyone convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun -- regardless of when the offense occurred.

Stripped of his weapon and badge, Green is being ordered to desk duty, and top department commanders say they might seek to fire him, arguing that if he can't carry a gun, he can't perform the job for which he was hired.

"The law has to be enforced, regardless of what our personal feelings may be," said Maj. Timothy Longo, commander of the Southeastern District station, where Green was a supervisor. Longo described Green him as an "exemplary" police officer.

Green said that he was puzzled by his suspension and that he was convinced he would soon return to his previous du- ties.

"I'm still a policeman," he said yesterday. "I just don't have police powers. The Police Department should not have domestic abusers. I agree with that. But how far are they going to go back?"

Green said the argument with his wife -- they are no longer married -- took place in 1971 over money and how she was spending it.

"She couldn't give me a satisfactory answer, so I slapped her," the officer said. "The judge found me guilty and fined me $50. I thought that was the end of it."

'How many more'?

Carole Alexander, executive director of the House of Ruth, a shelter for battered women, said she was pleased that Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier "is looking into this." She wondered whether any officers will be affected by the law. "How many more are there that they haven't identified?" she asked.

Green became part of a departmentwide crackdown announced Wednesday by Frazier, who ordered 35 officers facing misconduct charges stripped of their police powers until their cases are resolved.

Twenty-four of the suspended officers have administrative hearings pending, and nine are under internal investigation on allegations of domestic violence or use of excessive force.

Top police officials said they were stunned to learn that officers they wanted to fire had been returned to duty before their disciplinary hearings.

The situation came to light after Officer Charles M. Smothers II fatally shot a knife-wielding man at Lexington Market in August. Smothers was on duty despite being on probation for shooting at a former girlfriend and her boyfriend in 1995.

Hearings on hold

Administrative hearings have been on hold for a year while police and city officials answer allegations of disparate treatment of white and black officers. The hearings are scheduled to resume Oct. 15 at an accelerated pace of three hearings a week to clear a 200-case backlog.

Frazier said at a news conference Wednesday that citizens do not want police officers with checkered histories, especially pertaining to violence, helping them with problems. The chief said his commanders know what his standards are and that he "would be surprised if there were any misunderstandings in the future."

Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said a colonel held three suspension hearings yesterday.

The union president said two of the cases were postponed and that one was overturned because the officer had been cleared of a domestic violence charge in court and in an internal investigation. He said more hearings are scheduled for Monday.

Officers 'very upset'

"Officers are very upset," McLhinney said. "Anybody can make an unsubstantiated allegation. Like we were able to prove this morning, not all of these cases have merit."

Because they have already been convicted of domestic-violence charges, Green and Sgt. Louis H. Hopson Jr., who was convicted in the early 1980s, might not get hearings on their suspensions. Hopson is a 15-year member of the force assigned to the communications division.

The federal law, which took effect Sept. 30 and applies to all

citizens, bans from owning a gun anyone convicted of a misdemeanor or felony involving domestic violence, including assault and battery.

Maryland law enforcement officials have said the law is virtually impossible to enforce because of the difficulty of running background checks on the owners of all 1.2 million legally owned guns in the state.

Police departments in Maryland and nationwide have struggled with the law. Five officers suspended in Los Angeles are suing in federal court, arguing that the retroactive nature of the law is unconstitutional.

Baltimore police said they surveyed all 3,100 officers and ran criminal background checks to double-check the officers' answers.

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