Drug charges in doubt

Carroll County: Accusation of drug planting by Westminster police shakes public trust.

February 15, 2000

THE cost of justice is extremely high," lamented State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes, who faces the likely prospect of as many as 100 pending drug cases being tossed out of court. He has dismissed a half-dozen pending cases last week.

They are among the cases under investigation by the state attorney general because a Westminster police detective is accused of planting drugs on suspects.

The officer's alleged actions have tainted any number of drug charges made by Westminster police over the past year or so. Even charges that might be proven without the officer's direct involvement are in jeopardy.

This is a serious setback for Carroll County's commitment to crack down on drugs. The revived county drugs task force, new community-based programs and extra emphasis in the schools have all produced positive results.

But equally important is the prosecution of drug cases, which will suffer from this cloud of suspicion over the city police department.

To be sure, the state investigation began with complaints from other officers about the illegal planting of evidence. But there's still the question of whether senior officers knew of the alleged violations seven months ago and did nothing to stop them. Despite a paper trail of accusations against the officer, the allegations were not referred to state authorities by Chief Roger Joneckis until last month. Mr. Barnes, the chief prosecutor in Carroll County, says he then learned about the situation from state investigators.

Public trust in law enforcement and prosecution is essential if the judicial system is to work with justice for all. Sometimes that system is tested by adversity.

A thorough examination of the drug unit's work history, and holding responsible parties accountable, would go a long way toward restoring that shaken trust.

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