Officer accused of theft resigns

Two Hispanic men say he detained them, took their money

January 05, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore police officer accused of falsely detaining two Hispanic men and stealing hundreds of dollars from them resigned last week, and police and city prosecutors said they are conducting a criminal investigation.

The alleged robberies have strained relations between police and the growing Latino community in Upper Fells Point, where community leaders said they cannot understand why the accused officer has not been arrested.

Police declined to release the officer's name because of the criminal investigation.

Maj. George Klein, the commander of the Southeastern District, said the men were stopped because of their heritage, and not because they were suspected of criminal activity. "Maybe [the officer] thought they would not be as quick to complain," Klein said.

He stressed that the matter is being dealt with "very swiftly."

Angelo Solera, the vice chairman of the Mayor's Committee in Hispanic Affairs, said community residents will not be satisfied until the officer is publicly named and charged with a crime.

"These victims have been treated bad by their own police in their country, and now they come here and they experience the same thing," Solera said.

"They don't understand how this police officer can be walking the streets. People are fearful that they can be arrested because they are Latino."

The officer is accused of a robbery that occurred Dec. 13 when Hector Portillo, 23, was stopped about 6: 45 p.m. by an officer and robbed of $500. Solera said the victim made a complaint to police, but police said they have no record of it.

Two weeks later, Felix Guevara, 48, an immigrant from El Salvador, said the same officer stole $300 from him Dec. 28 as he walked home from work as a cook at Baltimore Brewing Co.

Guevara, who has lived here for seven years, said the officer pulled up in a marked van and demanded to see if he had a resident alien card and his wallet.

`He took the money'

"He took the money out of my wallet and he put it in his wallet," Guevara said. "He asked for my papers and returned them, but he didn't return my money."

Guevara, who speaks little English, and Miguel Angel Rivera, a Hispanic businessman, went to the Southeastern Police District to file a complaint that night against the officer. Klein came in from home, ordered the officer off the street and suspended him.

Klein said the officer then resigned.

Sister Mary Neil Corcoran, director of the Spanish Apostolate in Southeast Baltimore, said she was "impressed with the rapid attention to this," but angry that criminal charges have not been filed.

"It worries me that it could be happening to many of our other clients because of their vulnerability," she said.

Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a city police spokesman, said the matter is in the hands of the state's attorney's office. "Just because there were no criminal charges filed that evening certainly does not mean there will be no justice or accountability," he said.

Incidents investigated

A spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office, Francine Stokes, would say only that the incidents are being investigated.

Police and representatives of the Latino community agree that the incidents are a setback in efforts to establish a working relationship between law enforcement and many new residents who are distrustful of authority and government.

Officer Joao R. Alencar, the Southeastern District's Hispanic liaison officer, who is fluent in Spanish, started working in March to bridge the gap and address concerns of the community's growing immigrant population. He regularly attends meeting of community and church groups.

`A bad time for us'

The day after the officer resigned, Klein said Alencar made rounds to "assure the community that we would act quickly on such a complaint. This comes at a bad time for us. We've been progressing very nicely in building community partnerships."

Community leaders said they will continue to work and meet with police.

Rivera, the Hispanic businessman, wrote a flier in Spanish and English that is being distributed in Upper Fells Point and warns of the problem: "Attention Hispanic Community! Corrupt Police officer!!!"

Sun staff writer John Rivera contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 1/05/99

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