O'Malley sorry for tirade, but not `for outrage'

City, state officials condemn language about Jessamy

January 27, 2001|By Peter Hermann and Gady A. Epstein | Peter Hermann and Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley apologized yesterday for his profanity-laced tirade against the city's top prosecutor, but he refused to back off his anger over her dropping a police corruption case and said her decision "cannot be allowed to stand."

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy responded that she was "disturbed by the mayor's remarks and use of profanity" and will not prosecute people "on the request of a politician or anyone else."

She accused O'Malley, who is a lawyer, of violating "high standards of professional civility."

The mayor's comments provoked condemnation from members of the City Council and state legislators from Baltimore, some of whom said his statements belittled women and were particularly offensive to African-American women such as Jessamy. On the Senate floor in Annapolis, Sen. Joan Carter Conway called for O'Malley to apologize.

O'Malley, in an interview with The Sun Thursday night, used several expletives while accusing Jessamy of lacking "the guts" to bring Officer Brian L. Sewell to trial.

"I think he's gone over the edge in this kind of character assassination," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings. "I think his remarks were highly intemperate, and many of my constituents were offended."

The Rev. Gregory B. Perkins, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of 200 Baltimore churches, said, "It is a sad day in our city when our chief executive officer must resort to vulgar profanity to express outrage and dismay."

O'Malley's apology, a statement from Tampa, where he is attending the Super Bowl, is limited.

"I apologize for using inappropriate language. I do not, however, apologize for my outrage. Her decision cannot be allowed to stand. All of us should be angry when our State's Attorney will not go forward with cases involving police corruption and integrity."

In his Thursday night interview, O'Malley's criticism extended beyond the Sewell case.

"I've been trying for a year patiently to teach her the difference between important cases and minor cases, and have got nothing but excuses on why she couldn't do it," O'Malley said. "Her progress in separating the wheat from the chaff [in the court system] has been a snail's pace."

Jessamy, through two prepared statements, maintained that she could not prosecute Sewell because key evidence was tainted by a mysterious burglary of a secret police integrity office in which a confidential file related to the accused officer was stolen.

She added that police have publicly labeled undercover Internal Affairs detectives suspects in the break-in, damaging their credibility in possible testimony against Sewell.

"When, as in this case, the credibility of both the evidence and the witnesses are called into question, the prosecutor has an ethical responsibility to dismiss the charges," Jessamy's statement said. She said during a news conference this week that she believes Sewell is guilty.

Even before this incident, O'Malley has been critical of Jessamy, who has said she will run for re-election next year. In 1995, then-Councilman O'Malley competed with then-Deputy State's Attorney Jessamy for the state's attorney's post when it became open, but Circuit Court judges gave the job to Jessamy.

Sewell's lawyer, Henry L. Belsky, said he could have proved that Sewell is innocent.

"Jessamy did the right thing in tossing [the case]," said Belsky, whose client faces a federal civil rights investigation and a departmental hearing during which, police officials say, they will seek to fire him.

Sewell was arrested in October after police said he was caught in a corruption sting. Undercover detectives assigned to the Integrity Unit placed a bag of drugs on a park bench in West Baltimore and called in a fake report to communications.

Sewell arrived, and prosecutors said he was secretly photographed picking up the drugs. The officer then responded to a nearby burglary, and prosecutors said he charged the suspected burglar with possession of narcotics. He wrote in his report that he saw the man place the drugs on the bench.

Police charged him with perjury and misconduct, and a grand jury indicted him. Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris held up the case as proof that he was serious about corruption.

But the burglary Dec. 24 of the Integrity Unit - suspected to be an inside job, but not necessarily directly connected to Sewell - threw the case into doubt.

Belsky argued that the missing evidence might help prove his client innocent. Without it, he said, Sewell could not get a fair trial.

Police argued that while mistakes were made, the case against Sewell was not fatally flawed and should have been prosecuted.

"Ms. Jessamy got an indictment," said Sean Malone, chief of the Police Department's Legal Affairs Office. "She stated that this officer is guilty. But she didn't have the political courage to bring this case forward.

"We are convinced citizens would have convicted him," Malone said.

City Council President Sheila Dixon, while calling O'Malley's language "excessive," said Jessamy "should have at least allowed the system to handle Mr. Sewell to its logical end, a jury verdict."

Rawlings said O'Malley should turn his anger against his Police Department, because the burglary ruined the Sewell case.

"Did he curse at the commissioner for not being able to protect the evidence and not being able to solve the crime?" the veteran delegate said.

Sen. Clarence W. Blount said Jessamy was in a tough position, because if she tried a flawed case and lost, "then everybody says, `Boy, she loses every case.'"

Conway asked for permission to take the floor in the state Senate to complain. "As a woman, as an African-American, I was offended," she said.

Sun staff writers M. Dion Thompson, Thomas W. Waldron and Laurie Willis contributed to this article.

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