Avoid arrests, police urged

Authorities prepare to handle protesters at Cuba-Orioles game

May 01, 1999|By Caitlin Francke and Peter Hermann | Caitlin Francke and Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Concerned that arrests of hundreds of protesters at Monday's baseball game against Cuba could flood the local jail, Baltimore prosecutors, jail and court officials urged police in a last-minute meeting yesterday not to arrest protesters.

Officials want police to issue criminal citations or simply to detain troublemakers at police stations for a short time. Police have told the officials that they expect up to 1,500 protesters and as many as 600 arrests, meeting participants said.

"I don't want to have 600 people arrested," said Deputy State's Attorney Haven H. Kodeck. "That's the figure they gave us. We wanted to be prepared [and] not be caught Tuesday morning with 600 people coming through" the city's booking center.

The potential arrest numbers are the first sign that law enforcement officials believe the historic baseball game between the Orioles and the Cuban National Team could brew trouble. Police have long played down the possibility of civil unrest.

But yesterday, they said they do not expect to arrest nearly 600 people. The figure represents a worst-case scenario, they said.

"The department is not anticipating mass arrests," said spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr. "All of the information the department has as of today suggests the protesters would certainly like their message heard, but heard in a peaceful, civil manner."

Two sets of protesters -- one group eager to criticize Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the other urging the end of the U.S. embargo against his country -- are expected to converge on the stadium for Monday's game.

Organizers in both groups estimate that at least 1,000 protesters from each side will come to the city for the game.

Local and federal law enforcement officials have plans to assign a level of personnel they would use for a visit from a president or a pope. Police plan on a "citywide mobilization of forces," Col. Bert Shirey said.

Jail and court officials are so concerned about the potential impact on the already beleaguered criminal justice system that they are considering authorizing police to release arrestees without going through the jail or court system, meeting participants said.

"We can't tell the police what to do. We can suggest how they can proceed," said Keith E. Mathews, administrative judge for Baltimore's District Court. "We're concerned about the processing -- not so much about the trials. Because quite frankly I think that the state's attorney would decline to prosecute the cases because they are such minor cases."

Mathews said he thinks that issuing criminal citations or other alternatives to avoid mass arrests would be the best approach.

Police commanders said such alternatives would be difficult. Officers can issue criminal citations for minor infractions, but normally do not hand them out to non-Maryland residents because it is difficult to track them down if they do not appear in court.

Weinhold said officers will be instructed to give some leeway to citizens because of the complex political overtones of the game.

"The officers who are working the game will be using a reasonable degree of discretion," he said, adding: "If an arrest is warranted, an arrest will be made."

Pub Date: 5/01/99

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