Letters target three officers Police investigation of $100 gifts rises to a formal level

2 new accusations

March 17, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore police officer who says he was punished after he returned a $100 gratuity hidden inside a gift card has been formally notified that he is the target of an internal investigation, sources said yesterday.

Two other officers who the department has acknowledged accepted cash awards from a powerful Northwest Baltimore neighborhood watch group also have received target letters outlining accusations against them, the sources said.

But the investigation of Officer Kirk D. Noaker, who maintains he was given a punitive assignment after he questioned the propriety of the gifts, reportedly has broadened to include accusations that he lied and divulged confidential information to the media.

Noaker learned of the investigation in a letter hand-delivered to him last week at the Northwestern District station house, where he is assigned to a midnight patrol shift, sources familiar with the case said yesterday.

The letter, portions of which were read to The Sun yesterday, outlines three administrative charges that internal investigators are pursuing: unauthorized contact with the news media; filing a false report; and accepting an inappropriate gratuity.

Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a city police spokesman, declined to comment yesterday, noting the confidentiality of the continuing investigation. He declined to identify the other two officers.

He confirmed this month that three officers accepted money at an awards banquet sponsored by Northwest Citizens Patrol, a neighborhood watch group in Upper Park Heights, were ordered to return it and were being questioned to determine if they followed through.

The target letters mark a more formal stage in the investigation, indicating that department officials believe enough evidence exists to warrant a full-scale probe. At least one of the officers is seeking a lawyer, sources said.

Noaker's defenders say it is ironic that the one officer who maintains he "did the right thing" and returned the $100 bill tucked inside a gift card is being accused of wrongdoing.

Noaker, sources who back his story have said, was reassigned to an overnight patrol shift two weeks after he wrote a report questioning the propriety of accepting the secret cash gift. He had been a liaison to the citizen's patrol group and a computer crime statistics specialist.

"He was invaluable because of his unique knowledge of computers," said one of Noaker's former supervisors. "He was well-liked and was a hero to the command staff, and all of a sudden overnight, he's not doing a good job."

But members of the department's command staff, who are irritated by the incident and have privately portrayed Noaker as an opportunist lacking credibility, say that Noaker had been told of his reassignment before the December banquet.

Sources supporting Noaker suggest that he was not told of the transfer until after the banquet.

The investigation stems from an annual banquet held by the neighborhood watch group. The event attracts hundreds of well-connected citizens, including top police commanders, judges, prosecutors and politicians.

The group's president, Rusty White, gave out engraved gavels to judges, plaques to other honorees and envelopes to three Northwestern District officers, with "do not open until you get home" written on the outside.

Weinhold has confirmed that a $100 bill was tucked inside each envelope. He also has said that the Northwestern District commander, Maj. Errol L. Dutton, returned a $40 restaurant gift certificate, which had been given to him by White.

Sources have said that Noaker discovered the money when he arrived home. The sources said he returned the money to White's wife a short time later, then wrote a report explaining his uneasiness.

The day after an article appeared in The Sun on March 3 outlining the allegations and identifying Noaker for the first time, Noaker wrote a second report to his superiors in which he denied talking to news reporters.

"I emphatically denied interview requests from various media organizations," the officer wrote, according to three Police Department sources who have copies of the letter.

It was unclear whether the investigation of filing a false report pertains to Noaker's first report -- in which he said he returned the gift -- or to the most recent report, in which he denies speaking about the matter to reporters.

The administrative charge of filing a false report is a serious violation that can lead to dismissal. Sources said the target letter assigns an Internal Investigation Division file number and adds that its detectives have not limited themselves to the three charges they outlined.

Pub Date: 3/17/98

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