Officer's 1998 firing overturned

Police trial board erred in determining perjury, judge says

Officials pondering appeal

Sergeant contends he lost job for exposing force's race disparity

July 27, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore police sergeant who was fired after he was accused of committing perjury was ordered back to work yesterday by a Circuit Court judge who ruled that the department erred in determining that the officer had lied on the witness stand.

City officials said they are reviewing the 25-page ruling and have not decided whether to appeal the reinstatement of Louis H. Hopson Jr., 48, who had worked for the Baltimore Police Department for 18 years.

Hopson, who is black, maintained that he was fired for exposing racial disparity on the police force and said he wants to return to work.

Although the ruling by Judge Carol E. Smith does not mention race, Hopson said his victory demonstrates "the depth that this agency will go to try and get somebody. I would hope the department would not waste taxpayers' money in an appeal of this case."

It is the second victory for Hopson in his lengthy battle against the department.

In December, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled on a complaint filed by Hopson that city police punished black officers more harshly than whites and retaliated against those who complained. City officials are negotiating a settlement with the federal civil rights agency.

The Police Department had accused Hopson of lying during a criminal trial when he testified that he had never before been convicted of perjury. He had been convicted in 1987 of misconduct in a case that involved filing a false report. Officials deny that race played any role in his termination.

Fraternal Order of Police lawyer Herbert Weiner, who with Michael Davey represented Hopson, said back pay could cover three years, from when the sergeant was suspended without pay. "The clock is running," Weiner said.

Hopson's predicament dates back 17 years to a 1982 gambling raid at Brother's Place, a bar on South Hanover Street.

Department officials accused Hopson of lying about his surveillance to obtain the warrant. In 1987, he pleaded guilty to administrative charges of misconduct. He was stripped of 15 vacation days.

In 1994, Hopson testified as a character witness for a colleague charged with rape in a Circuit Court trial. Assistant State's Attorney Sharon A. H. May tried to impeach Hopson's credibility by asking whether he had been convicted of lying on the 1982 search warrant affidavit.

A lengthy exchange ensued. Hopson repeatedly denied such a conviction while May tried to get the sergeant to say that he had pleaded guilty to making a "false report" or a "false statement." She also tried to get Hopson to say that the underlying facts to the misconduct conviction were that he had lied in the affidavit.

The officer on trial was acquitted of rape charges.

As for Hopson's credibility, Smith wrote in yesterday's ruling that "Ms. May was unable to impeach Sergeant Hopson with this aspect of his prior departmental disciplinary history."

The judge said May was asking Hopson about lying in an affidavit, while Hopson was answering "in the context of giving false testimony in a court proceeding. May is talking about apples. Hopson is talking about oranges."

In February 1996, department officials charged Hopson with lying during the trial under questioning by May, alleging that he had falsely denied his previous conviction while under oath.

On Aug. 11, 1998, Hopson was found guilty by a three-member internal trial board of making a false statement. The board recommended he be fired, and Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier agreed.

Smith reversed the trial board's decision yesterday and ruled that the confusing courtroom exchange between Hopson and May did not amount to perjury.

The judge wrote that Hopson's testimony had discrepancies but ruled that "neither the trial board nor this Court could legitimately conclude that Hopson was not truthful when he responded as he did to Ms. May's and Judge [Clifton] Gordy's questions."

Pub Date: 7/27/99

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