A former Baltimore police officer pleaded guilty yesterday to using the power of his badge to rob an immigrant in a case that strained relations between city police and a growing Hispanic community in Upper Fells Point.
Dorian J. Martin, 25, who had patrolled city streets for six years, accepted a plea bargain that spares him prison time but forced him to admit to one count of felony robbery. He quit the force on Dec. 28, the day he was accused.
The agreement calls for Martin to be sentenced Aug. 9 to a three-year suspended sentence, three years of probation, and four months of home detention. Prosecutors said charges that he robbed two other immigrants will be dropped at sentencing if he pays them $600 restitution.
Martin declined to comment after the hearing in Baltimore Circuit Court. His lawyer, Warren A. Brown, said Martin feels betrayed by his former colleagues because they did not believe his explanation -- that he took the money in a fit of anger and forgot to return it.
"Being a police officer was all that he wanted to do," said Brown, adding that Martin resigned because he felt he would not be treated fairly because he is black. "It is sad that it has come down to this. He is bitter."
The case troubled the Police Department, which has been striving to bridge cultural gaps between law enforcement and a growing population of Central American immigrants in Southeast Baltimore. Many have come to escape police oppression in their countries.
Latino residents expressed anger that it took prosecutors weeks to investigate and indict Martin. Yesterday, Angelo Solera, vice chairman of the Mayor's Committee on Hispanic Affairs, said he was upset that the former officer will not go to prison.
"That was a slap on the wrist," he said of the agreement. "The police officer violated a person's rights and stole a person's money and cut a deal. It's a joke. This is definitely another case where the system is protecting its own."
The victim from whom Martin stole money, Felix Guevara, 48, from El Salvador, said he did not feel comfortable offering an opinion on the plea because he was not in court.
It was while walking home from his job as a cook at the Baltimore Brewing Co. about seven months ago that Guevara, who speaks virtually no English, said he was robbed by Martin. He said the officer stopped him on Gough Street on Dec. 28, demanded to see papers and ordered him to put his hands above his head.
Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth A. Ritter told Judge Clifton J. Gordy yesterday that Martin reached into Guevara's pockets and took out about $300, including a $100 bill. In strained English, she said, Guevara shouted: " `Give me money, give me money.' "
But the officer just "smiled and walked off," the prosecutor added.
Ritter said Guevara called a friend, who contacted the police. Martin was ordered to turn over his money to supervisors. It totaled $347. "A $100 bill was right on top," Ritter said. The money was later returned to Guevara.
At the time, Martin denied taking money. " `I cashed a paycheck and I need money for day care,' " Ritter quoted him saying.
But a month later, Martin told reporters and police investigators that he confronted Guevara outside a bar and got angry when the man waved bills in his face. Martin said he grabbed the money, put it in his pocket and then left because he received a police call.
Martin said he returned a short time later and drove around looking for Guevara to return the money, but could not find him.
Then two other complainants came forward. Hector Portillo said he was robbed of $500 on Dec. 13 and James Garcillia Roy said he was robbed of $100 in May 1998.
After yesterday's court hearing, Ritter defended the agreement. "We try to do everything to ensure justice is served," she said. "We feel that it is in this case."