Most of files stolen from police found

Baltimore resident comes across items in Eastern Ave. trash

January 04, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Most of the files and other items stolen from a secret Baltimore police Internal Affairs office were recovered by a man who stumbled upon the sensitive material in a trash bin behind a doughnut shop on Eastern Avenue.

The Christmas Eve burglary at the department's Integrity Unit has police officials concerned that one of their own might have broken in to compromise corruption cases.

Police officials on Tuesday acknowledged the burglary at the undisclosed location in Essex after being questioned by reporters. They did not mention that most of the items were recovered the same day as the break-in.

Sources confirmed yesterday that Jim Isbell, 38, who lives in Southeast Baltimore, recovered dozens of stolen items, but apparently not all of them. It was unclear what, if anything, was still missing.

Isbell said he and his girlfriend were searching trash bins behind a Dunkin Donuts shop just over the city line in eastern Baltimore County about 5 p.m. Dec. 24, when he found two bags packed with police items.

Inside, Isbell said, were police personnel folders, files, a city police officer's Rolodex, a city police flashlight, photos of people under surveillance, mug shots, video tapes with names and addresses, and files marked "confidential - city police Internal Affairs section."

Isbell said yesterday he flipped through some of the files and noted that some were labeled "integrity test." He called 911 and said four county officers responded and took him to the FBI office in Woodlawn, where he was questioned.

"When they called the detective whose Rolodex it was, they got real hush-hush about everything," Isbell said. "I got the impression that they didn't get everything back that they were looking for."

Officials of the Baltimore and Baltimore County police departments declined to comment on Isbell.

Sources from several agencies, however, confirmed Isbell's account, including the interview at the FBI office, and called him crucial to their investigation.

Isbell's discovery has raised new questions about the case, which is shrouded in secrecy. A police report has no information other than the time the burglary was reported - 3:30 p.m.

Police have refused to say how the break-in was discovered.

No arrest has been made. Investigators said it is possible the office was chosen randomly by a burglar who later discarded the files, but detectives said they're treating it as an internal matter.

On Tuesday, police sources said officials were concerned that an officer was responsible for the burglary because sensitive files related to internal investigations were missing or had been rifled.

Included in the files are records involving Officer Brian L. Sewell, who was charged in October with falsely arresting a man on drug charges after an undercover sting run by detectives working out of the burglarized office.

Police sources have said there is great concern that the burglary may have compromised the Sewell case, which has been described by Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris as a prime example of the department's willingness to go after corruption.

But a high-level police source said yesterday that the Sewell case could go forward even if the investigator's files are missing. Arraignment is scheduled for this month.

"We have eyewitness testimony," the source said.

The source said of greater concern is that confidential witnesses or potential victims of police abuse have been exposed by the burglary. "There are a thousand theories" as to why the burglary occurred, the source said.

Mayor Martin O'Malley said the burglary would not thwart department efforts to police its own.

"I'm sure Commissioner Norris will get to the bottom of this," he said. "These are the bumps in the road that we can expect."

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