Prosecutors drop charges in police office break-in

Officer resigns from department

both sides satisfied

February 16, 2002|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County prosecutors dropped all charges yesterday against a city police officer accused of breaking into the department's secret internal affairs office. In exchange, Officer Joseph P. Comma Jr. resigned.

Comma was charged with burglary, theft and malicious destruction of property in connection with the break-in, which took place in December 2000 at the internal affairs office on the grounds of the Back River Sewage Treatment Plant in Eastpoint.

Assistant State's Attorney Frank Meyer, chief of the county's investigations division, said yesterday that the charges were dropped after consultations with the city Police Department.

Since the department no longer wanted Comma on the force, "he agreed to resign, and we agreed to drop the charges in exchange," Meyer said.

"This was the best way to resolve this expediently," he added.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris said yesterday that he was happy with the agreement.

"We're very pleased with what they did," Norris said. "We got what we wanted."

Comma's lawyers, Larry A. Nathans and Michelle Martz-Bowles, released a statement yesterday saying: "Joe Comma is innocent and we are pleased that the state has dropped the charges. Joe wanted no more part of the Baltimore City Police Department. His decision not to seek reinstatement was easy."

Martz-Bowles said Comma will receive pay retroactive to March 14, 2001, the day he was suspended. She said Comma is working as a carpenter.

She said there was no physical evidence, such as DNA or fingerprints, implicating her client in the break-in. A black glove found at the scene was determined not to have belonged to Comma, she said.

"The state's only alleged real evidence was the testimony of [Sgt.] Kelvin Sewell," she said.

Sewell testified during a pretrial hearing in November that Comma confessed to breaking into the office.

Sewell told County Circuit Judge Robert N. Dugan that Comma told him on Jan. 1, 2001: "I don't want you to go down for what I did. I did the break-in."

One month after the alleged confession, Sewell was called to an FBI office in Woodlawn and questioned about the break-in. Sewell had just failed a polygraph test when city police Sgt. James Hagin asked him whether he knew who was responsible for the burglary.

Sewell named Comma.

After the break-in, investigators discovered that one of the missing files involved Officer Brian L. Sewell (no relation to Kelvin Sewell), who had been charged with perjury and misconduct after police said he falsely charged a man with drug possession.

Because of the missing file, criminal charges were dropped against Brian Sewell in January 2001. Last November he was found guilty of misconduct by a police disciplinary panel. He was fired in December.

Sun staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.

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