Panel finds city officer guilty of false report

Police disciplinary board recommends firing of Sewell, a 7-year veteran

November 07, 2001|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore police disciplinary panel found Brian L. Sewell guilty yesterday of misconduct stemming from the arrest of an innocent man on drug charges last year. The board recommended that Sewell be fired.

Sewell was found guilty of making false statements in police reports and a statement of charges, misleading police and prosecutors, and misconduct in office.

Sean R. Malone, head of the department's legal affairs office, said the case was "an important one for the Baltimore Police Department" and showed that police officials were serious about cracking down on bad officers.

The trial board will submit a written report to Commissioner Edward T. Norris, who is expected to fire Sewell.

Sewell declined to comment. Gary L. McLhinney, president of the local police union, said he was disappointed by the verdict and criticized the internal affairs investigation that led to the unraveling of Sewell's seven-year career.

"Everybody has to play by the rules," McLhinney said. "That was not the case here."

Sewell became ensnared in a random sting at a city park just west of downtown Sept. 4 of last year. Internal affairs officers placed fake drugs - several packets of Ivory soap - in a park bench at Presstman Street and Madison Avenue, then called dispatchers to report a man placing drugs there and leaving. The man was described by dispatchers as wearing a white tank-top shirt and yellow sweat pants.

Investigators wanted to see what officers responding to the dispatcher's call would do with the apparent drugs.

Sewell testified that as he drove toward the park he saw a man "messing" with a bag at the bench. As he gunned his car toward the park, the man saw him and ran away, Sewell said.

Sewell said he walked directly to the bench but could find no drugs. Two officers, who earlier had driven past the park and not seen any activity, returned. One of them, Officer Willie Kennedy, found the drugs and took them away.

Sewell then went to a nearby apartment building where the manager had called police to complain about people dealing drugs.

Sewell saw Frederick L. McCoy, 18, leaving the apartment and arrested him on drug possession charges - saying in charging documents that he had seen McCoy "placing" drugs on the park bench. Sewell then obtained the drugs from Kennedy and submitted them into evidence.

Sewell also charged McCoy with burglary. Both charges were dropped.

Sewell wrote in his report and charging documents that he saw McCoy at the bench, wearing a white tank-top shirt and jeans. Later, he told internal affairs investigators and the disciplinary panel that McCoy was wearing a yellow sweat shirt or sweater tied around his waist.

The case came down to whether trial board members believed Sewell or internal affairs investigator Liza J. Hoover, who was watching the park during the sting.

Hoover testified that no one except for Sewell and the two other officers had entered the park.

Sewell called Hoover a liar, but the trial board apparently relied on her and the two officers who passed by the park shortly before Sewell arrived.

Hoover and two other internal affairs officers came under fire from Sewell's lawyer, Michael E. Davey, and from the trial board for conducting a "sloppy" and "shoddy" investigation.

One of the officers, Joseph P. Comma Jr., was charged with burglary in the Christmas Eve break-in of a secret internal affairs office. Sewell's case file was taken in the burglary.

City prosecutors then dropped a criminal case against Sewell, noting a lack of evidence and problems with witnesses who were suspects in the break-in.

Malone said yesterday that he believed that prosecutors would have been able to convince a jury of Sewell's guilt, but he acknowledged that there "were problems" with the case.

During closing arguments, Malone said Sewell planted the drugs to boost his statistics to get reassigned to the tactical unit.

"He's a storyteller," Malone said.

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