Police return 22 suspended to active duty Charges, inquiries stand

13 officers remain in desk jobs

'Thorough review of cases'

Union leader says Frazier's stand was a publicity stunt

October 09, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Nearly two-thirds of the 35 Baltimore police officers who were suspended last month because they faced misconduct charges have been given back their badges and guns and returned to active duty.

The 22 officers still face disciplinary hearings or remain under internal investigation on charges they used excessive force on the job or assaulted their wives or girlfriends.

But top police commanders have decided their alleged infractions are not serious enough to bar them from street patrol until their hearings. Cases against 13 of the officers were deemed serious, and they will remain on desk jobs, officials said.

"The officers who have their police powers restored were determined to be fit for duty after an extensive and thorough review of the cases," said department spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr.

Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier announced the suspensions at a news conference Sept. 17, saying it was necessary to take action to maintain integrity with city residents. Yesterday, he said the review was successful because he discovered "the 13 who shouldn't have been on the street."

But Officer Gary McLhinney, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, called the suspensions a publicity stunt aimed at scoring public relations points rather than being fair. He said the reversals prove his point.

"I would have liked to have seen the police commissioner have all the facts before he embarrassed some of these police officers in an effort to make it look like he's tough on domestic violence and excessive force cases," the union leader said.

Frazier ordered the officers suspended one month after commanders learned that Officer Charles M. Smothers II was patrolling city streets despite being on probation for shooting at a former girlfriend and her boyfriend in 1995.

The revelation came after Smothers was videotaped killing a man armed with a knife outside Lexington Market in a controversial shooting. Prosecutors cleared Smothers of any criminal charges, but he remains on desk duty pending an internal review.

Smothers had been suspended after he was charged in the 1995 domestic case but was allowed back on the street after he appealed to a colonel. A commanders' review of similar cases found that suspended officers were put back on the street by commanders who didn't have to fill out paperwork or offer an explanation.

That prompted Frazier to suspend the 35 officers -- 24 who had been charged and found at fault by the internal investigations unit in domestic abuse or excessive force cases and were awaiting disciplinary hearings, and nine who were under investigation.

Two others were placed on desk duty because their cases fell under a new federal law that prohibits anyone convicted of domestic abuse, regardless of how long ago, from carrying a gun. One of the sergeants had been convicted of assault 26 years ago. A second sergeant was convicted in the early 1980s. Their police powers remain suspended.

Department commanders have said that the revelations that nearly three dozen officers were on the street despite pending misconduct charges were particularly embarrassing for Frazier because he has been in the forefront of suspending officers in domestic violence cases.

McLhinney, who often clashes with Frazier, said some of the cases brought against officers were more than two years old. He said that in some domestic cases, victims had recanted their statements months earlier. In others, the department lacked evidence of excessive force.

"The department's spin that this shows the system works is foolish," said McLhinney, whose labor organization demanded a suspension hearing for each officer.

A department commander, defending the chief, said Frazier was not grandstanding at the news conference but trying to be accountable to the public he serves.

"It is better for the commissioner to err on the side of caution," said the commander, who asked not to be identified.

Weinhold, the department spokesman, said, "The department has a responsibility to ensure that each and every officer who responds to a citizen's home is competent, professional and trustworthy. This was clearly an equitable process for each and every officer."

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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