Former officer denies accusations

Hispanic man taunted him with money, says six-year veteran

January 14, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore police officer who resigned last month after being accused of taking money from two Hispanic men acknowledged yesterday that he seized cash from one accuser, but denied shaking down a second man.

In a version of events disputed by Hispanic leaders and the accusers, Dorian J. Martin said Felix Guevara taunted him with cash after police asked him to leave the intersection of Gough and Regester streets on Dec. 28. Guevara and a companion agitated Martin by waving the money and claiming that they could "buy and sell him," Martin said.

Frustrated at their response, Martin grabbed the money, which he said was about $160, and put it in his pocket. He was then summoned on an emergency call. When he returned from the call, Martin said, the men were gone. Guevara, a Salvadoran, filed a complaint that day, and Martin, a six-year member of the force, resigned hours later.

"I was upset because they weren't meeting our demands," Martin said in a news conference yesterday at the downtown office of his attorney, Warren Brown. "I went back around to find him, and I couldn't find him.

"It was bad judgment on my part," Martin said. "And I apologize for that."

The incident has sparked outrage among the city's Hispanic community, and a grand jury is investigating whether charges should be filed against Martin. Guevara, 48, contends Martin asked him to show immigration papers before taking $300 from him. A second man, Hector Portillo, 23, said Martin took $500 from him on Dec. 13.

Martin and his attorney denied yesterday any knowledge of the Dec. 13 alleged incident. Of the roughly $300 cash he took from his pocket and gave to police after Guevara's complaint, Martin said, about $140 was his own money.

The accusers could not be reached yesterday, but representatives of the city's Hispanic community attended Martin's news conference, and said they were not convinced by his explanation. Angelo Solera, vice chairman of the Mayor's Committee on Hispanic Affairs, said the matter needs to be resolved in court. The office of Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy is investigating the accusations.

"I truly believe that something went on," said Solera, who has interceded on behalf of the accusers, who are not fluent in English. "I don't believe that [Guevara and Portillo] are just lying. There will be no satisfaction until it goes to court," Solera said.

Brown said he has asked Jessamy's office to let the grand jury reviewing the matter hear Martin's side of the story before any charges may be filed, but he has received no response. Jessamy's office declined to comment on the matter, saying it is under investigation.

Brown noted that the intersection where the incident occurred was filled with passers-by and that Martin would not commit such a crime.

"The notion that Officer Martin took this money to line his pocket with larcenous intent is ridiculous," Brown said. "The evidence will show that Officer Martin, in the presence of a group of people, confronted this one individual."

Martin acknowledged his resignation might make people think he is guilty. Martin said he was told by police administrators that Guevara would consider dropping the complaint if he resigned. The 24-year-old African-American officer said yesterday, however, that he resigned to avoid the police disciplinary process.

"The trust was not there," Martin said. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently concluded that the Baltimore Police Department had a "centralized practice" of punishing black officers more harshly than whites and retaliating against those who complained.

Over the last 18 months, department administrators say they have instituted major changes to improve the disciplinary process, including adding more minority officers to the review board and creating a committee to make sure punishments are administered justly.

A department spokesman yesterday challenged Martin's suggestion that he would not be treated fairly.

"This is not about historical injustices," said Robert W. Weinhold Jr. "It's about modern-day honesty, integrity and professional commitment."

Martin would not comment on whether he wants his job back if cleared of the allegations. But he welled up with tears when discussing the loss of the only job he's held since graduating from high school six years ago.

"I was a damn good police officer," Martin said. "It hurts."

Pub Date: 1/14/99

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