Mayor fumes over Sewell

O'Malley says Jessamy is `afraid' to prosecute cases

`I'm tired of it'

Angry outburst stops just short of calling for her resignation

January 26, 2001|By Peter Hermann and Gady A. Epstein | Peter Hermann and Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley lashed out furiously last night at Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, all but calling for her to resign a day after she dropped charges against a police officer in a corruption case.

"She doesn't even have the goddamn guts to get off her ass and go in and try this case, and I'm tired of it," O'Malley said in an interview. "If she doesn't have respect for the police, if she doesn't have respect for the people of this city, maybe she should get the hell out and let somebody else in who's not afraid to do the goddamn job."

O'Malley's comments came a day after Jessamy dropped corruption charges against Officer Brian L. Sewell, who was accused of falsely charging a man with drug possession three months ago.

Jessamy could not be reached for comment last night, but she said Wednesday that she dropped the case because key evidence was compromised in a recent burglary of a police office. But the city's top prosecutor publicly added that she believes Sewell is guilty.

Sewell's arrest was part of a more aggressive effort by police to ferret out corrupt officers through integrity stings.

O'Malley said yesterday that the police conducted 35 such stings last year, compared with five the year before, and hopes to go up to 100 stings a year. But he said Jessamy is undermining the department's efforts.

"I think the failing in these cases is to not go forward, and I'll be goddamned if we're going to stop doing integrity cases and doing stings just because we have a prosecutor who's afraid to go forward and try them," said O'Malley, who has been critical of Jessamy in the past.

"Maybe we'll find a prosecutor with a little bit of guts to go forward," he said. "I talked to her before she dropped this case ... begged her, pleaded with her and tried to persuade her to go forward with this case. She said, `No, too many red herrings.' I think the poor woman must have been attacked by red herrings when she was a child. She sees red herrings everywhere."

O'Malley said he and the Police Department are considering finding a way to prosecute integrity cases without Jessamy, if possible. He also noted that Sewell still has to appear before a departmental trial board.

"He's not going to serve in my Police Department," O'Malley said.

Earlier in the day, Sewell professed his innocence in his first public comments since he was charged.

"I did not do what they said I did," Sewell said during a news conference, while surrounded by three police union lawyers. "My goal is to return to work and to do what I do for this city."

But that will not be easy for the seven-year veteran, who remains suspended until he has an administrative hearing, during which the department says it will try to fire him. That could be several months away.

Sewell said he was "not happy" with Jessamy's comments that she believed he was guilty.

One of his lawyers, Herbert R. Weiner, said it is "very disturbing when a public official stands behind her office title and says, `I think he's guilty. We can't prove it, but I think he's guilty.' I think that's just wrong."

The failure to prosecute the Sewell case, coupled with the burglary that police believe was committed by one of their own, is giving new life to complaints that the city Police Department is incapable of policing itself.

Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris hailed Sewell's arrest Oct. 4 as proof he was serious about attacking corruption, only to see the case ruined by another occurrence of apparent police misconduct.

State Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV renewed his earlier calls for a broad U.S. Justice Department investigation into allegations he has made that officers routinely manufacture evidence and falsely accuse drug suspects.

The West Baltimore Democrat had requested the federal inquiry after Sewell's arrest, and he listed another case. Yesterday, he released a letter dated Jan. 16 from the U.S. Justice Department confirming that the FBI had begun an investigation.

But Special Agent Peter A. Gulotta Jr., a spokesman for the Baltimore FBI office, said the letter confirms a civil rights investigation into the Sewell case that his office began the day the corruption case became public.

"We've had our own case in regards to that almost from day one," Gulotta said.

Sewell was arrested after a sting conducted by members of the Integrity Unit, part of the Internal Affairs Division. Detectives placed a bag of cocaine on a park bench on Presstman Street in West Baltimore and called in a fake report to communications.

Sewell responded. Prosecutors said they secretly photographed him picking up the drugs.

The officer then responded to a nearby burglary complaint, and prosecutors said he charged the suspected burglar with possessing the drugs he had picked up from the bench.

Sewell wrote in his statement of probable cause, a legal document justifying the arrest, that he saw the man "placing a clear plastic bag into a crack of park bench."

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