More files missing from office break-in

Evidence stolen in brutality case against city officer

January 30, 2001|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

During a court hearing yesterday, police investigators revealed that evidence against a second Baltimore officer was stolen in a Christmas Eve break-in at a secret police office.

Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth A. Ritter said the assault and misconduct case against Officer Clyde Rawlins Jr. was not compromised by the missing evidence.

At the hearing, Baltimore Circuit Judge John N. Prevas denied a motion by Rawlins' lawyers to dismiss the case because of the break-in, but castigated Ritter for failing to turn over evidence that could help the defendant prove his innocence.

Prevas called for prosecutors to be better trained on the rules governing the disclosure - or "discovery" - of evidence. Prosecutors are required by law to disclose to the defense any exculpatory evidence - material that could aid a defendant - or risk having the case dismissed.

"Why does the state continue to skirt the line between disaster and prosecution?" Prevas asked. "Why take the position that something is not exculpatory when it smells exculpatory?"

He suggested that judges consider reviewing all evidence in high-profile cases "if the state doesn't get a more realistic view of what `exculpatory' means."

Rawlins is charged with perjury, second-degree assault and misconduct in a case stemming from a July incident in which he is accused of beating a man and then arresting him for disorderly conduct. He has been suspended from the police force pending his Feb. 20 trial.

At issue yesterday was a report by Lt. Stephen Lucasik, who investigated the brutality complaint. In his report, he said that there were inconsistencies among accounts of the incident given by Larry Nathaniel, 19, and members of his family who said that Rawlins beat and struck Nathaniel.

"By Mr. Nathaniel's own account, he never stated that the officer kicked and punched him as other witness accounts indicate, nor was he slammed to the ground," the report states.

Ritter never turned the report over to defense attorneys. The lawyers received a copy after someone placed it anonymously in the defendant's mailbox.

One of Rawlins' lawyers, Michael J. Belsky, argued that Ritter intentionally withheld the report. The victim's statement to the investigator backs up Rawlins' account of what happened that afternoon in the 1400 block of Argyle Ave. in West Baltimore.

Ritter said she did not turn over the report because she did not think it was exculpatory.

Prevas agreed with the defense, but denied its request to dismiss the case on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct.

The missing evidence in the case consists of investigators' notes that were in the secret office of the Internal Affairs Division, which was burglarized on Christmas Eve. Rawlins' entire Internal Affairs file is missing, but police said yesterday that Ritter had copies of all the material.

Another Rawlins defense lawyer, Kimberly A. Alley, said she plans to renew her request to have the case dismissed.

"I think Officer Rawlins' defense is compromised," Alley said.

Ritter said the Rawlins case is different from the one against Officer Brian Sewell, which her office dismissed last week. Sewell was charged after an undercover sting in which he was accused of planting evidence on a defendant. Because authorities believe that the burglary was committed by an officer, the prosecutor's office decided that police testimony in the Sewell case could be tainted.

In Rawlins' case, Ritter said, she has civilian witnesses whose testimony would not be tainted by the break-in.

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