Group planning protest at court

Hispanic leaders seek jail time for ex-officer, notice for community

August 01, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Outraged over a plea bargain that will keep a former Baltimore police officer convicted of robbing a Spanish-speaking immigrant out of jail, some Baltimore Hispanic leaders want to pack the courtroom and parade outside Aug. 9, the day he is formally sentenced.

That night, the 16 leaders headed by Angelo Solera, vice chairman of the Mayor's Committee on Hispanic Affairs, plan to meet in Canton to organize an umbrella group to raise the profile of Hispanic people and press Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy to hire bilingual Hispanic paralegals and lawyers.

The case has strained relations between Southeast Baltimore's growing Central American immigrant community and police. The planned street demonstration would be the second since July 13, when 50 people picketed the courthouse to protest the plea bargain.

In hopes of persuading Judge Clifton J. Gordy to ignore the plea bargain and impose jail time, Solera said yesterday, the group wants to bring as many people to court as it can. He and other leaders, joined by Baltimore NAACP chapter President G. I. Johnson and Gilberto DeJesus, Maryland's secretary of juvenile justice, met for 45 minutes in the basement of Los Tres Santos Reyes Episcopal Church in Canton.

"If we don't do this, it will happen again, and again, and again." Solera said. "The message they [prosecutors] are sending [to police] is, `Do whatever you want to do -- we'll take care of you.' "

Six-year officer Dorian J. Martin, 25, resigned Dec. 28, and pleaded guilty July 8 to using the power of his badge to rob Felix Guevara, 48, of El Salvador. In return for that plea, Martin is to receive a three-year suspended sentence, three years of probation and four months of home detention. Charges that he robbed two other immigrants will be dropped at sentencing if he pays $600 in restitution.

"I think you're on the right track, raising the consciousness of the people of Maryland," Johnson, of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told the Hispanic leaders. "It's not an issue of race or color. It's something we as a community cannot tolerate. We support you."

DeJesus said the courtroom plans are good "but not good enough" if the composition of Jessamy's staff isn't changed.

"There's not one Latino lawyer or paralegal in that office. That's outrageous in a city this size," said DeJesus, who said he was at the meeting as an individual, not a state official.

"I've seen too many demonstrations that are a catharsis" but fade into inaction, he said. "Pat Jessamy is a very decent woman. She's very concerned about this, but we need to hammer it home." He volunteered to draft a petition on sentencing to present to the judge.

Though most were quick to say they believe most police do a good job, there was bitter talk from one man, Deva "Angel" Dwarka, president of Latinos for Progress.

"If the victim was white, the police would be in jail," he said, adding that if the victim were black and the officer white, jail would also be the result. Martin is black. "They feel we [Hispanics] are insignificant and do not count."

Manuel Alban, editor and founder of El Heraldo de Maryland, a Spanish-language newspaper, said he did not share Dwarka's feelings.

"In my book, they did the best they could with what they had," he said about Baltimore police and prosecutor Elizabeth A. Ritter. And Paul Osorio, a deacon of St. Michael's Catholic Church at Lombard and Wolfe streets, and president of the Colombian Club of Maryland, said: "We want to support the police. We know the police are doing a good job, but we have to be sure these people have sensitivity."

Guevara was robbed Dec. 28 while walking home from his job as a cook at the Baltimore Brewing Co. He said Martin stopped him on Gough Street, demanded to see his papers and ordered him to put up his hands. Martin reached into Guevara's pocket and took out about $300 in cash, smiled and walked off. Police were called and the money retrieved from Martin, who first said he cashed a paycheck. Two other complainants, Hector Portillo and James Garcillia Roy, then said they had been robbed by Martin.

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