Civilians suffer injury in 'war on drugs'

November 02, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

Phillip King stood outside the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse on Tuesday afternoon with the sadness clearly etched on his face. This was a man either clearly in anguish or a damned good actor worthy of an Academy Award nomination.

King was all over television news Tuesday night, charging that police searched his home in a drug raid Oct. 9 and, in the process, made a search of his two daughters in which inappropriate touching occurred.

This should clear up the wild rumors that the girls -- ages 15 and 9 -- were subjected to strip and body cavity searches. A lieutenant at the Southeast District also denied the strip- and body-cavity-search allegation.

"We don't conduct business that way," he said. But he claimed that a patrolwoman made a pat-down search of both girls for officer safety. After police left, King had both girls write down exactly what had happened to them for documentation. He was shocked when he read both girls' accounts that the search included the officer going underneath their bras and touching their breasts.

It was not the kind of thing the 38-year-old lifetime Baltimore resident wanted to read. Not after, he claims, his 9-year-old daughter -- who was menstruating -- was not allowed to use the bathroom for 10 minutes and then had to leave the door open when she did with male officers still roaming around his house. Not after he and his daughters cut short a trip to a college fair at Perry Hall Senior High School after he received a call from his alarm company that someone had broken into his house shortly before 6 p.m. The someones, it turned out, were Baltimore police officers.

King told his story before the congregation of Union Baptist Church and on state Del. Clarence M. Mitchell IV's radio show. He says he is not a drug dealer and has no criminal record. Police insist that they had a legal right to search his house, that the warrant was obtained after officers observed what they believed to be drug activity at his home.

"We believe he needs to speak to someone he either knows or lives with him," the Southeastern lieutenant said.

"I can account for every head that comes into this home -- when they come and when they go," King shot back. "When you make a charge like that, you'd better have the facts to go behind it."

So far these facts are known: Police found no drugs in King's house. The one weapon they found -- a .38-caliber handgun -- King had papers to show was legally bought and registered. Police took it anyway, King said, to see if ballistics showed it had been used in a crime.

Here's another fact: Credibility is on King's side, not the Baltimore police. Protesters at the courthouse Tuesday were still demanding a grand jury investigation into the police shooting death Aug. 9 of James Quarles. Preliminary police reports of that shooting said Quarles lunged at Officer Charles Smothers. Police later said Quarles didn't appear to lunge, but that was after a videotape of the incident appeared.

"They lied," Mitchell said of the initial police report of the Quarles shooting. "We place no faith in what they say. We assume that they are guilty and must prove themselves innocent."

King carries no such baggage. It's just possible he might be an unscrupulous man making a false charge so he can file a lawsuit against the police. But that has to be proved. Everybody in the Baltimore area knows what the initial police statement was on the Quarles shooting and what the videotape showed.

It might be tempting to believe that King is indeed involved in drugs and just got lucky this time. But our consciences don't deserve that comfort. About a year ago, an East Baltimore woman called to say police had broken into her house looking for drugs and a dealer named "Reds." They made her and her daughter sit huddled in terror on the living-room couch while they ransacked the house. Police left with no drugs and no Reds. It's more likely that this woman's only crime -- and King's -- was living in an area where drug dealers run rampant.

A retired couple living in Northeast Baltimore said federal Bureau of Alcohol,Tobacco and Firearms agents conducted a similar drug raid on their home.

"If it can happen to me, it can happen to you," King said. That seems to be where our drug war is taking us. It's easy to point the finger at police, to say they got the wrong house and should behave. But, in a way, all of us -- in our insistence that the so-called "war on drugs" must be fought and won at all costs -- RTC sent those police to King's house. Much as our troops discovered in Vietnam, our police are finding out that the war on drugs means making war on civilian noncombatants.

Pub Date: 11/02/97

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