Officials to reinstate sergeant

City won't appeal ruling overturning police board decision

Officer fired in 1998

Mayor tells leaders to address issues of race relations

July 29, 1999|By Peter Hermann and Gerard Shields | Peter Hermann and Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore police sergeant will return to work now that a court has ruled that department officials erred when they accused him of perjury and fired him.

The city's mayor and police commissioner said yesterday that the city will not appeal Monday's Circuit Court ruling ordering the reinstatement of Sgt. Louis H. Hopson Jr., who was discharged last year.

It was unclear exactly when Hopson will return, or in what capacity. The 48-year-old, who has said he was targeted because he crusaded against racism in the department, is barred from having a weapon because of a domestic violence conviction dating to the 1980s.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he hopes Hopson's reinstatement will ease tensions in the 3,200-member force, and he urged top commanders to take "extra efforts to resolve any outstanding race relations issues."

Schmoke announced the city's decision yesterday at a meeting of the Board of Estimates, which approved the appointment of former police legal adviser Gary C. May to the city solicitor's office.

Hopson and state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV had objected, saying May, who is white, oversaw police trial boards at a time when the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the agency unfairly targeted black officers for discipline.

In approving the $42,743 contract, Schmoke said May shouldn't be blamed for problems in handling trial board cases, many of which happened before the attorney's arrival.

"Although there are serious and were serious problems, counsel for the department should not bear the burden of all the problems in the past," Schmoke said.

City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt voted against hiring May, noting concerns over the racial problems in the department and May's contract. City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III abstained from the 3-1 vote on May.

City solicitor Otho Thompson has moved assistant city solicitor Jerome Nicholas, who is African-American, from handling school issues to head litigation for the Police Department.

Officials said they hoped that by ending Hopson's case, other similar problems can be swiftly addressed. Hopson will not be allowed on the street immediately because of his previous conviction.

A federal law forbids anyone with a domestic violence conviction of owning a gun, no matter how long ago the offense occurred. The law is being challenged by police organizations across the country; a federal court last year ruled the retroactive nature of the law unconstitutional.

Hopson was one of three officers with convictions stripped of their weapons last year. Two have retired. Baltimore officials said they are awaiting legal interpretations of the court's ruling.

Weinhold said that should Hopson return to the force, he will face a hearing "on the status of his police powers."

The sergeant said yesterday he is confident he will return to full duty.

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier fired Hopson last year after a city prosecutor complained that the sergeant had lied on the witness stand in a colleague's rape case in 1996 by denying he had been disciplined in 1982 for falsely filling out a search warrant application.

A Circuit Court judge ruled Monday that the department erred in determining that Hopson had perjured himself, and Hopson said the ruling proved that he was unjustly targeted, which the department and mayor denied.

Police said they acted after receiving a complaint from the city state's attorney's office.

"The investigation into Sergeant Hopson's conduct was not a matter of race," Weinhold said. "It was a matter of integrity."

Pub Date: 7/29/99

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