Officers placed on leave after abuse convictions could resume full duties Law on which discipline was based is called flawed

September 01, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

In September, the Baltimore Police Department placed Sgt. Lloyd W. Green on administrative leave for slapping his former wife -- 25 years ago.

Green's limbo as a police officer might end soon based on a federal court ruling Friday that labeled as unconstitutional a 1996 law prohibiting police officers convicted of a domestic-violence misdemeanor from possessing a gun.

The law, introduced by Democratic Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey, resulted in Green and two other Baltimore police sergeants being put on desk duty with pay.

Members of Baltimore's Fraternal Order of Police union joined national FOP leaders yesterday in rejoicing over the outcome of their legal challenge to the law in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The union leaders said they hope the ruling by Judge Stephen F. Williams will return Green and hundreds of other officers across the nation to their jobs.

"This law doesn't protect abusers," said Gary McLhinney, president of Baltimore FOP Lodge 3 and a national FOP board director. "All it does is penalize people who have already been punished, almost 20 or 30 years ago."

The issue of domestic abuse by police officers has swelled over the past few years.

In October, Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier announced a crackdown on officers accused of domestic abuse. Frazier suspended 35 officers facing misconduct charges, many accused of beating their wives or girlfriends. Frazier gave 22 of those officers their guns and badges back after investigators failed to find adequate evidence to support the allegations. The re- maining officers went to face disciplinary hearings.

Baltimore police legal advisers had little reaction to the ruling yesterday. They said they would wait for legal interpretations of the decision and keep an eye on similar court cases before making any major department changes.

"The bottom line is that this department will not tolerate domestic violence involving offenders among its ranks," police spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr. said.

Green declined to comment on the ruling yesterday. A judge had found the sergeant guilty of slapping his former wife in 1971 -- two years before he became a Baltimore officer -- after a dispute over money. He paid a $50 fine.

Another officer, Sgt. Louis H. Hopson, also was relieved of his supervisory duties because of a domestic-abuse conviction in the 1980s for assaulting a former girlfriend. A three-member disciplinary board recently recommended Hopson's dismissal on an unrelated complaint over the accuracy of court testimony.

Last year, the Baltimore FOP lodge received the nation's first $225,000 U.S. Justice Department grant to study domestic violence.

With Johns Hopkins University psychologists, the union is using the money to determine whether a pattern exists among police abusers, so the trait can be identified during prehiring interviews.

Local and national FOP leaders said their opposition to the Lautenberg provision should not be construed as tolerance for domestic violence by police officers. The union said it merely questioned the firing of police officers for misdemeanor offenses committed years ago that likely have no bearing on their ability to police.

Pub Date: 9/01/98

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