Hispanic leaders urge officer's arrest

Baltimore police defend handling of man accused of thefts

January 06, 1999|By Peter Hermann and Amy Oakes | Peter Hermann and Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

An adviser to the mayor said yesterday the Baltimore police officer who quit last week after being accused of stealing money from two Hispanic men should be arrested, and any delay would erode the Latino community's confidence in law enforcement.

"It's kind of hard for people to trust the police when they are defending their own," said Angelo Solera, the vice chairman of the Mayor's Committee on Hispanic Affairs.

Baltimore police yesterday defended their decision not to arrest the 24-year-old officer. They said prosecutors preferred to take the case before a grand jury, a process that is shrouded in secrecy.

"We have to be guided by the state's attorney's office," said Maj. George L. Klein Jr., the commander of the Southeastern District, where the officer worked. "Rather than have the officer immediately arrested, they would rather re-interview the witnesses and file for a criminal indictment."

Police officials have declined to name the officer, citing the pending criminal investigation. High-level department sources identified him as Dorian J. Martin, a six-year veteran. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Officials said the officer resigned Dec. 28, hours after Felix Guevara, 48, an immigrant from El Salvador, complained that he was detained on the street, ordered to hand over his residency papers and robbed of $300 by a uniformed patrol officer. Hector Portillo, 23, said he was robbed of $500 by the same officer on Dec. 13.

Police -- who have said neither man was suspected of wrongdoing when they were detained -- insisted they acted swiftly by ordering the officer off the street and suspending him the same night Guevara came to the station house. They said a criminal investigation began immediately.

Solera and other Hispanic leaders questioned why the officer wasn't arrested on the spot. Solera said the officer had Guevara's money in his pocket after he was ordered off the street, but police would not comment on that.

"If that would have been me or you, we would not have the luxury of walking around the streets waiting for the state's attorney's office," Solera said.

Had the officer been charged by police, his name would have been made public, along with arrest reports and court papers detailing any alleged wrongdoing. Under the grand jury process, nearly everything about the case is hidden from public view.

Francine Stokes, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office, will confirm only that an investigation is under way. She could not say whether the case has been or will be referred to a grand jury.

"Nothing can be released until the investigation is completed," Stokes said. Told the Hispanic community wants to know when charges will be filed, she said: "I can't answer that."

Many community leaders were under the false impression last week that the officer had been charged. Sister Mary Neil Corcoran, director of the Spanish Apostolate, praised police for their "quick response." She questioned the Police Department's actions when she learned that no charges had been filed.

A community meeting has been scheduled for 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Enoch Pratt Free Library branch at 301 N. Broadway. "We were told at that time the police will explain to us what is going on," Solera said.

City police have worked hard over the past year to improve relations with the growing Hispanic community in Upper Fells Point.

Police and community leaders acknowledge that relations have been strained.

"I think there's a lot of unrest in the community primarily because you are talking about an abuse of power," said Haydee Rodriguez, executive director of the Centro de la Comunidad, a Latino community center.

"People are going to be more hesitant about calling the police and trusting them."

Heber Portillo, general manager of El Salvador Restaurant, said the community is concerned about what happened and how it will be handled.

"If they do something, like put this man in jail, then everything will go back to normal," Portillo said from his restaurant in the 200 block of S. Broadway. "We need to have a meeting to discuss all this."

Pedro Candelario, owner of Don Pedro's Musica Latina, said he was surprised when he heard about the incidents from his friend, Baltimore Police Sgt. Rufino Garcia. Candelario said Garcia stopped by his store, also in the 200 block of S.Broadway, a few days ago, looking for robbery victims.

"It's just unbelievable; you expect the law to defend and protect you," Candelario said. "When they do something like this, you feel betrayed."

Candelario said residents will continue to look for people in the Latino community who have been victimized by police, though he thinks this is an isolated situation.

Col. Elbert E. Shirey, the chief of patrol, said commanders are as angry with the allegations as the community is, but he said police handled the situation appropriately. He said that with complaints where there are no independent witnesses, officers usually write up a report and tell the complainant to seek charges through a court commissioner, who can issue an arrest warrant.

"Police officers, because of the nature of their job, are subject to complaints, most of which prove to be false," Shirey said. "To simply throw the cuffs on an officer every time someone alleges wrongdoing would not be the prudent thing to do."

Pub Date: 1/06/99

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