Inquiry returns officer to city park

Police investigation of Sewell continues

November 03, 2001|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Brian L. Sewell returned yesterday to the park where his career as a Baltimore police officer unraveled a year ago. He kicked leaves and watched as three of his colleagues examined the area as part of an investigation to decide whether to convict him of misconduct charges.

A disciplinary hearing that could result in his firing began Thursday and continued yesterday with a visit to the site where on Sept. 4, 2000, Internal Affairs officers planted a bag of fake drugs to test officers' integrity.

The department charges that the seven-year veteran used that bag to arrest an innocent man on drug charges. Sewell and his attorneys say he was a good officer doing his job.

"This is a matter of professional honor," Sewell said in a brief interview at the park at Madison and Presstman streets. "I have done nothing wrong."

Before visiting the park, trial board members heard testimony from the man arrested by Sewell, Frederick L. McCoy, 19, who said he did not enter the park and was smoking marijuana in a nearby apartment that morning.

But McCoy's credibility came under fire from Sewell's lawyer, Michael E. Davey, and McCoy acknowledged that he had been selling drugs since he was 9 years old.

He also acknowledged that during a past criminal case he had given false testimony about a stash of drugs he had been charged with possessing.

McCoy's whereabouts are important because Davey has said that Sewell saw someone run from the park when the officer approached it. Sewell is expected to testify that he saw McCoy do something with the drugs on the bench and then run away when he arrived.

If that happened, Sewell would have had probable cause to arrest McCoy - a point that Sean R. Malone, the department's chief legal counsel, conceded yesterday. "If McCoy was in the park, [Sewell] should be acquitted," Malone said.

Much of the case will hinge on whether trial board members believe Sewell or the testimony of Internal Affairs Officer Liza J. Hoover, who testified that she kept a close eye on the park during the entire operation. She testified that no one except for Sewell and two other officers entered the park.

That morning began when internal affairs officers set up a random "integrity sting" in the park and stashed a bag of fake drugs on a bench, then called dispatchers to report a drug dealer, wearing a white tank-top shirt and yellow sweat pants, leaving drugs on the bench.

Sewell responded, and Davey has said the officer saw someone matching that description running away from the park. Sewell then searched the area for drugs but couldn't find the bag, Internal Affairs officers have testified. Two other officers showed up and one of them found the bag, according to testimony. The officers left the park and Sewell rushed a block and a half to a report of drug dealing from an apartment. There, he says, he spotted McCoy leaving the house and arrested him on burglary and drug charges. He wrote in documents charging McCoy that he had seen him "placing" the bag of drugs on the bench.

McCoy was wearing a white tank-top shirt and dark jeans, he testified.

After the sting operation, Hoover and two other Internal Affairs officers went to West Baltimore to conduct another operation. They did not figure out what happened to the drugs until 10 days later. They also did not videotape the sting or take detailed notes.

Sewell was indicted on perjury and misconduct charges in October 2000, a month after the departmental sting. Those charges were dropped after someone broke into a secret Internal Affairs office in Baltimore County and stole "every piece of paper," including the entire Sewell case file.

The person charged in that burglary was Joseph P. Comma Jr., the lead Internal Affairs investigator in Sewell's case.

Maj. George Klein, who is leading the inquiry, said yesterday that the sting operation was "shoddy" and "sloppy."

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