Political feud ends in truce after meeting

Mayor, Jessamy agree to increase cooperation of police, prosecutors

`There was no nastiness'

Dispute fueled by release of city shooting suspect

July 27, 2002|By Allison Klein and Tom Pelton | Allison Klein and Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

After a weeklong barrage of insults, Mayor Martin O'Malley and State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy met face to face yesterday, calling a figurative truce and agreeing to criminal justice reforms that they hope will bring better cooperation between police and prosecutors.

The meeting, requested by Jessamy, comes amid a spate of violence in the city that has left two dozen people dead, including three children. The killings stirred raucous political feuds this week among the mayor, the state's attorney, police leaders and the judiciary over how the crisis should be handled.

But the name-calling and finger-pointing subsided yesterday.

"There was no nastiness. Everybody was cordial, I'm happy to admit," Jessamy said as she emerged smiling from the meeting. "It's always easier when you have collaboration and partnership."

A day earlier, her spokeswoman called a news conference and verbally blasted the mayor, accusing him of "hoodwinking" the public and saying his crime-fighting strategy "failed miserably."

O'Malley and Jessamy agreed on several changes yesterday, including an increase in funding for the city's witness protection program, more joint training for prosecutors and detectives, and creation of a position for a crime lab liaison to coordinate between the two agencies. Jessamy's office suggested most of the ideas.

"We laid out a path for the future," said O'Malley, who also met with Circuit Court judges yesterday to discuss city crime issues. "We won't have a future as a city if we don't get a handle on violent crime."

Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris also attended the meeting, and said he agreed with the suggested changes. He said he didn't want to comment on the on-again, off-again battle between the mayor and the city's chief prosecutor.

"This makes for good theater," Norris said as he left City Hall. "The problem is, I have a lot of work to do."

The accusations began Monday when O'Malley publicly berated prosecutors and a city District Court judge for allowing a man charged with shooting a 10-year-old boy to be released on $35,000 bail. The defendant, Perry Spain, 19, returned to his home in the same neighborhood as the child, Tevin Montrel Davis.

No prosecutor showed up at the hearing to argue for a higher bail for Spain.

Yesterday, O'Malley asked Jessamy to try to amend or revoke Spain's bail, saying the shooting of Tevin has come to represent the city's relentless violence.

"I asked Mrs. Jessamy to revoke the bail so that Mr. Spain is not back living on the same block as the 10-year-old child," O'Malley said.

Jessamy said she would consider it. She added that her office doesn't routinely attend bail review hearings.

The week's events come at a crucial time for Jessamy, who is in the midst of a re-election campaign. She faces two aggressive candidates in the Sept. 10 primary - the first opposition she has had since she took office in 1995.

Among the most significant of the issues O'Malley and Jessamy agreed on yesterday was to expand the state attorney's witness protection program, which has an annual budget of $300,000. The mayor offered the prosecutor's office access to a $17 million city fund that could be used for witness relocations and other expenses.

O'Malley said he is not setting aside any portion of the fund for prosecutors, but said there is no limit on how much they can draw from it.

Other changes that will be made include:

All bail hearings will be moved to the Central Booking and Intake Center, making it easier for prosecutors based at the city jail to attend the hearings.

City detectives will receive additional training by watching videotapes of courtroom prosecutions.

A city Police Department employee will switch jobs Aug. 3 to act as a liaison between the city Police Department's crime lab and the state attorney's office. The position should help speed the flow of information to prosecutors.

The hiring of a witness coordinator - to be paid $41,000 annually by the city - for the state's attorney's office to keep better track of witnesses.

O'Malley met with the city's Circuit Court judges after his meeting with Jessamy. Administrative Judge Ellen M. Heller called the meeting "a positive exchange of information."

"We talked about fighting crime in Baltimore City and how we each can be effective. The court is an impartial arbiter, but we are all equally concerned about crime," Heller said. "Judges are also residents of Baltimore City."

O'Malley said the back-and-forth accusations this week about Spain's release and the failures of the criminal justice system were good for the city because they spurred reform of the court system.

"The progress in a democracy comes from the free exchange of ideas," O'Malley said. "It's not always the kind of stuff you see in a Hallmark card. But that's what's going on here."

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