Police misconduct hearing under way

Patrol officer accused of throwing away potential evidence

January 13, 2000|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

An administrative police trial board began hearing testimony yesterday on the actions of a county patrol officer accused of negligence and misconduct in throwing away potential evidence in a homicide investigation.

Officer Patrick Donnelly had been dispatched on July 1 to an Annapolis research company whose manager turned over what police believed were fragments of a bullet that went through the business's bay door on Hudson Street -- across the street from the scene of a homicide.

Internal affairs investigators say that Donnelly, without consulting his supervisors, threw the fragments out of the window of his patrol car.

They also say he did not file a report about the fragments -- but that he had collected them was discovered by investigators a day later when the company manager told detectives he had given the fragments to a patrol officer.

"We're not talking about a mistake. He decided this was not a homicide scene and he willfully threw the evidence away," said Sgt. Jeffery Collins, the internal affairs investigator acting as prosecutor in the hearing before a trial board of three police officers.

"He intentionally destroyed evidence. It hasn't been recov- ered. There's no hope of it being recovered," Collins said. "How could he not think that would influence the outcome of an investigation?"

Donnelly's lawyer, George Lantzas, argued that his client did not know the bullet fragments were related to the homicide because police were looking for a shotgun as the weapon. He also argued that the fragments -- although never recovered -- might not have had anything to do with the killing.

Police were unable to determine the size of the projectile that went through the business' bay door, according to testimony, and reports on the bullet that killed Keyo Williams, 25, did not pinpoint its size.

"There is not one scintilla of evidence that he's done anything other than made a mistake," Lantzas told the board when he asked it to dismiss all 20 charges against Donnelly. "He wasn't throwing out evidence that was part of the investigation."

Williams was fatally shot on the parking lot of Club Hollywood about 2 a.m. June 30 -- across Hudson Street from Sonex Research, whose manager called police about the apparent bullet fragments a day later.

A finding of guilty on the administrative charges could bring punishment ranging from a fine to dismissal from the police force.

The panel that will decide the case and, if necessary, recommend punishment to the police chief, is made up of a lieutenant, a sergeant and -- as required by department rules -- a member of the same rank as the accused, a patrol officer.

They heard opening statements from both sides and four prosecution witnesses as Collins presented his case -- two detectives, a patrol supervisor and the Sonex manager, William McCowan, who testified that he called police because he believed the fragments found inside the business could have been related to the homicide.

Lantzas acknowledged that Donnelly was aware of the homicide, because when he heard the call come in from Sonex, he asked the dispatcher for the homicide incident report number.

McCowan told the board that he put the fragments in Donnelly's hand, and that Donnelly left the building.

Sgt. Terry Crowe, who was the criminal investigations supervisor in the case, testified that when he questioned Donnelly about what happened to the fragments the next day, Donnelly told him, "I threw it out the window."

"These fragments could be evidence in my homicide," Detective Thomas Torrence Jr., lead investigator in the killing, testified. "I didn't know for sure if these fragments might've been a piece of the puzzle. It's impossible to tell."

Police said at least five rounds were fired into the crowded parking lot the night of the killing, and they initially thought Williams had been killed by a shotgun. Investigators discovered later that more than one gun had been fired, and Williams was killed by a bullet fired from a handgun, Torrence testified.

Sgt. Samuel Worsham, Donnelly's patrol supervisor, said Donnelly had been reprimanded in 1998 and suspended for three days in another incident "regarding evidence that wasn't properly collected."

Worsham did not go into further detail about the suspension. Police would not disclose details on that incident, saying it was a personnel matter.

The hearing is to continue this morning with defense witnesses and closing statements.

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