Evidence review freeing prisoners

Officer is accused of trying to taint criminal cases

February 18, 2000|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

On a recent morning, Jason Black shuffled into Carroll County Circuit Court wearing handcuffs, shackles and the orange inmate clothes of the county jail. In the afternoon, he exchanged that outfit for his own blue jeans and a flannel shirt, and imprisonment for freedom, because of an investigation into a Westminster police officer.

Black's release after seven months of awaiting trial on a drug charge is one of the rippling side effects of the state attorney general's investigation of Detective Richard A. Ruby, a 36-year-old officer suspended this month after two colleagues accused him of trying to plant drugs on suspects in July.

Though the charges against Black have not been dropped, prosecutors dropped their demand that he post bail and acknowledged that charges against him are being reviewed.

"When I read about the investigation last week, I tried not to get my hopes up," said Black, 20, of Westminster. "I knew right away it meant that I might possibly go home, but I didn't want to shout or anything. Mostly I was still frustrated at the justice system, allowing me to be locked up for such a long period for something I felt I didn't do."

If news of the investigation was good for Black, it has created turmoil for prosecutors and defense lawyers, who are reviewing more than 100 criminal cases in which Ruby is the sole investigator or would be a key prosecution witness.

"We've had calls coming out of the woodwork, from defendants or their lawyers, questioning Officer Ruby's involvement in their cases," said Judson K. Larrimore, supervising attorney for the public defender's office. "Three staff members are working on back files, reviewing cases in which defendants were given [jail] time and Richard Ruby was involved."

Charges against 8 dropped

As of yesterday, Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes had dismissed charges against eight defendants because of Ruby's involvement.

Ruby, who was suspended with pay and relieved of police powers Feb. 4, is under investigation.

The detective has declined to discuss the allegations.

His lawyer has said that incidents involving Ruby have been taken out of context and that Ruby will be exonerated.

Black had been charged with possessing and distributing crack cocaine and -- after other incidents -- for disorderly conduct and second-degree assault against Ruby.

According to court and police records, Ruby and Detective Chris Outten sent an informant into a Sullivan Avenue apartment May 18, where the informant allegedly obtained six vials of crack cocaine. Black was charged with possession and distribution of cocaine.

In court in July

Black appeared in court July 23 to ask for a jury trial on the drug charge. After the request was granted, a commotion occurred outside the courtroom between Black and Ruby, according to court records.

Black's lawyer, public defender Janette E. DeBoissier, said Black and Ruby bumped chest-to-chest. Ruby arrested Black on charges of second-degree assault and disorderly conduct.

It marked the second time Ruby had accused Black of assault. In April, according to court documents, Ruby and Outten charged him with assault after Black allegedly threatened them near Sullivan Avenue with a 10-foot board.

After his months in jail, Black's prospects improved this week when special drug prosecutor Theresa M. Adams acknowledged in Circuit Court that Ruby's involvement might weaken the cases. "It is possible some of them might be dismissed," she told Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway.

Galloway granted Black's request for release on a $10,000 unsecured bond, saying, "I have to consider the possibility that the charges may ultimately be dismissed."

He ordered Black to be supervised by pretrial services counselors until the charges are dropped or prosecutors decide to go to trial.

"I will be looking for work in Westminster until [the legal matter] is resolved," Black said. "I've worked in construction, at a sawmill, at Burger King and was an apprentice barber for a while. I can do a lot of different things, but I want to find any job I can for right now."

Black, who said he graduated from Edmondson High School in West Baltimore in 1995, adjusted to life in Unit 60 at the county detention center "as best I could."

"With so many men packed into a small room like sardines, tempers are going to flare," he said. "I just tried to keep to myself and get out of the way when things happened."

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