Police lieutenant sues Norris over stinging remarks

Lawyer disputes `whorehouse' label, officer's duty status

May 26, 2001|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore police lieutenant accused by Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris of "working in a whorehouse" while on duty filed a $2 million defamation lawsuit yesterday against the city's police chief.

Lt. John M. Mack, a 17-year veteran of the Police Department, named Norris in a lawsuit that alleges the commissioner defamed his character in public remarks about an April Fools' Day police raid at an after-hours club.

At a City Council hearing May 15, Norris gruffly referred to Mack as "someone being paid by the Baltimore City police working in a whorehouse on duty, not policing their district," when officers found him at Ronnie's West Side Gallery in West Baltimore during a raid of the establishment.

Then he added: "He ain't a good guy in our eyes, and I don't want him in my department."

Mack's Circuit Court lawsuit asks for $1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

Norris was unavailable for comment on the suit, said Police Department spokeswoman Ragina C. Averella. "We don't comment on pending litigation," she said.

Mack's attorney, William R. Buie III, said Norris' statements "extremely injured" his client's reputation.

"It's false, false and false," Buie said after a news conference to announce the lawsuit.

"The commissioner says it's a whorehouse, but they didn't arrest anybody for illegal sexual activities -- so how can it be a whorehouse? Then the police commissioner says [my client] was working there while on duty -- you can go to Colonel [James L.] Hawkins and he'll confirm that Lieutenant Mack wasn't on duty that night. The third thing is the commissioner says he was receiving money for working, but he didn't receive any money because he wasn't working," Buie said.

"Bottom line: He wasn't working for the establishment, he wasn't working for the Police Department," Buie concluded.

When officers converged on Ronnie's West Side Gallery, in the 2100 block of W. Lanvale St., they found Mack, the supervisor of a Northwestern District detective squad, at a time when he was scheduled to work a weekend overnight shift.

They also found Mack's department-issued 9 mm Glock handgun behind the club's bar.

Because he was dressed in plainclothes, police suspected Mack of moonlighting at the club as a security guard on a night he was scheduled to work for the Police Department.

Two police commanders who defended Mack to Norris, former Deputy Police Commissioner Barry W. Powell and Col. James L. Hawkins Jr., were effectively fired earlier this month after Norris said they contributed to a distracting "culture of vengeance" within the ranks.

Buie said they were trying to clear up a misunderstanding about the morning of April 1. Mack had taken off that Saturday because of a month-old leg injury and was waiting in the bar early Sunday "to pick up a friend," Buie said.

"Did he check in that day [at work]? No. Was he working? No, he wasn't. The schedule that reflected that he was working was made up months earlier, before he even received his knee injury," Buie said.

Mack has been assigned to administrative duties and was relieved of his gun and badge pending an internal inquiry.

Mack's lawyer acknowledged that the matter of Mack's unsecured handgun -- an apparent violation of the Police Department's strict guidelines governing the proper handling of weapons -- was a serious issue.

But he also said Norris' remarks suggest that the commissioner has made up his mind about Mack's guilt.

"I think certainly what that remark shows is that there may be bias in the Police Department before its investigation is completed. ... It's kind of a rush to judgment, in the least," Buie said.

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