Trial begins against officer accused of robbing immigrant

Man taunted police with cash during stop, defense says

November 05, 1999|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

In the first day of a much-anticipated trial, an attorney for the former Baltimore police officer charged with robbing a Latino immigrant accused the alleged victim yesterday of taunting the officer with cash and lying about being unable to speak English.

He also said that his client, Dorian J. Martin, "was being held up as a sacrificial lamb to the Hispanic community in Baltimore."

"The state will tell you that this man doesn't speak English, but that's not true," said attorney Warren A. Brown. "He speaks English when he wants to."

The statements came during opening statement in the case against Martin, who is charged with one count of felony robbery in the alleged theft of more than $300 from Felix Guevara on a Fells Point street last year. Two other Latino immigrants also have accused the officer of robbing them while on duty.

Guevara, a friend who first reported the alleged robbery and a police sergeant who handled the case testified yesterday before a jury and Baltimore Circuit Judge Clifton J. Gordy.

Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Ritter depicted Guevara, a custodian at the Baltimore Brewing Co., as a law-abiding immigrant who respects authority and was outraged that he was wronged by a police officer.

"Mr. Guevara was robbed," Ritter said. "That this police officer in uniform committed a crime, that's not what police officers are supposed to do."

At issue is what happened on Dec. 28, after Martin stopped Guevara -- who was walking home from work on Gough Street -- frisked him, and asked to see identification.

Guevara said Martin took more than $300 in cash from his front right pocket and put it into his own pocket. Speaking through an interpreter, Guevara said that when he protested the robbery, Martin waved and left the scene in his police van.

Brown said Guevara "is from a country where people pay off cops," and that he taunted his client with his cash, waving the money in Martin's face and saying, " `I can buy you.' "

Brown painted Martin as a "cop's cop" who demonstrated "a poor act of judgment" when he took the immigrant's money in a fit of anger. According to Brown, he had intended to return it, but was called away by supervisors.

"Only two people know what was going on that day, and only one knows what was in the mind of this Baltimore City police officer," Brown said. Brown asked Guevara what he told Martin when the officer was leaving the scene.

"Dame mi money," Guevara said. "Give me my money," the interpreter said.

But Brown scoffed at the Spanish-language testimony.

"What exactly did you say?" Brown asked. "You know more [English] than that, man. Come on. Answer me. You know what I'm saying."

Guevara sat blankly and did not respond until prompted by the interpreter.

Also at issue is Guevara's background. A Baltimore resident for seven years, he is from El Salvador, a war-torn country with many residents familiar with abusive and dishonest law enforcement officials.

Miguel Rivera, a longtime friend of Guevara's who translated for him the night of the alleged robbery and testified yesterday, said that although Guevara reported the incident the night it happened, he initially hesitated to come forward because of his experience in El Salvador.

"He didn't want to get the police involved. He was afraid," said Rivera. "The police [in El Salvador] will rob you and kill you."

The trial resumes at 9: 30 a.m. today.

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