Sewell defends charging teen-ager

Officer in hearing on whether he had cause to make arrest

`I saw what I saw,' he says

November 06, 2001|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Police Agent Brian L. Sewell told a police disciplinary panel yesterday that he acted appropriately last year when he charged a teen-ager with possessing drugs that -- unknown to Sewell -- were placed in a city park by Internal Affairs investigators.

"I saw what I saw," said Sewell, a seven-year member of the department. "The facts are the facts."

Sewell faced his third day of disciplinary proceedings in a case that began at the park and led to his indictment on criminal misconduct and perjury charges. Those charges were dropped after a secret Internal Affairs office was burglarized and Sewell's case file was stolen.

At issue in the case is whether Sewell spotted a youth in the park placing drugs in a bench. Internal Affairs investigators put fake drugs -- several small packets of Ivory soap -- on a bench in the park at Presstman and Madison streets just west of downtown. They then called dispatchers to report a man wearing a white tank-top shirt and yellow sweatpants leaving drugs.

The investigators were conducting a random sting to see what officers, responding to the dispatcher's call, would do with the fake drugs.

An Internal Affairs investigator said she watched the park and that only Sewell and two other officers entered it during the sting. But Sewell contended that he was approaching the park in his squad car and saw a man on one knee "messing with a plastic bag" at the bench. Sewell then gunned his car toward the bench, he testified, and the man, later identified by him as Frederick L. McCoy, 18, ran away.

If McCoy was at the bench, Sewell would have probable cause to charge him with drug possession.

Sewell said the Internal Affairs officer, Liza J. Hoover, was "lying" when she testified that McCoy did not enter the park.

Questioned by Sean R. Malone, who heads the department's legal affairs unit, Sewell acknowledged telling investigators in May that he might have seen McCoy at another bench.

What happened before Sewell arrived at the park is also central to the case.

Earlier, two other officers drove by it, responding to the bogus drug call. Those officers said they did not see anyone in the park and kept driving.

When Sewell drove to the park several minutes later, he said, he spotted a man running away. He testified that he walked to the bench where dispatchers had said a man had left the drugs. But Sewell did not find any and looked around the park.

The two other officers returned. One, Willie Kennedy, found the fake drugs and took them away. The other officer testified last week that Sewell mentioned seeing a man run away from the scene.

Sewell then responded to a call of drugs being dealt from an apartment around the corner. He testified that he spotted McCoy leaving the apartment and arrested him on drug charges because he was the man he saw with the bag at the bench.

Sewell obtained the drugs from Kennedy but did not mention the transfer in his report. He wrote that McCoy was wearing a tank-top shirt and dark jeans. Sewell said yesterday that McCoy was also wearing a yellow sweater or sweat shirt around his waist.

An officer who took McCoy to Central Booking and Intake Center said the teen-ager had a "brightly" colored jacket tied around his waist. McCoy denied wearing such a sweat shirt, and other officers could not recall whether he was wearing one.

Sewell also charged McCoy, who did not live in the apartment, with burglary.

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