Solicitor's kin given five years in gun case

Official confronted police during nephew's arrest

October 29, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Lawrence D. Hutchings, nephew of City Solicitor Thurman W. Zollicoffer Jr., pleaded guilty to a handgun charge in Baltimore Circuit Court yesterday, six months after his uncle drew attention by interfering in Hutchings' arrest.

Hutchings, 22, was sentenced to five years in prison without the possibility of parole on charges stemming from a March 15 police stop when he was found to be in possession of drugs and a handgun. However, charges were dismissed in the case that led to the confrontation between Zollicoffer and police in April. In that incident, the city solicitor made it clear he held a top position in city government.

The charges against Hutchings that had led to Zollicoffer's April 30 argument with police -- possession and distribution of drugs -- had been merged with charges associated with the traffic stop and were dropped as part of yesterday's plea agreement. In addition to the five-year sentence on the gun charges, Hutchings was sentenced to five years in prison for violation of probation, but he will serve that time concurrently with the handgun sentence.

In the March 15 incident, police saw Hutchings speeding and chased him along Northern Parkway. After he was stopped, police found a stolen, loaded 9 mm Luger handgun in his car and a vial of what they believed to be crack cocaine. He was also driving with a suspended license.

The incident involving Zollicoffer occurred about six weeks later, when Hutchings is accused of selling suspected cocaine to an undercover officer, according to police.

Officers were arresting Hutchings in his home in the 1900 block of E. Belvedere Ave. and were waiting for detectives to return with a warrant to search the house. That was when Zollicoffer arrived and allegedly threatened officers' jobs and used racially inflammatory language. He also made it clear that he heads the city's legal department and represents police officers in court.

Zollicoffer later apologized for challenging the officers' right to be at his nephew's house, but he denied that he threatened officers or used racial slurs. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Gary McLhinney, president of city's police union, filed a complaint against Zollicoffer in May with Maryland's Attorney Grievance Commission.

McLhinney said he was pleased with yesterday's sentencing, even though all charges stemming from the confrontation between the city solicitor and police were dropped.

"The end result is a good one," McLhinney said. "You have to look at the big picture -- [Hutchings] is off the street for a significant amount of time."

McLhinney said his complaint with the grievance commission is pending. He said the officers who arrested Hutchings were interviewed by the commission two months ago.

In answer to McLhinney's complaint, Zollicoffer's lawyers filed a response in July, saying the complaints are "meritless."

The response says Zollicoffer was at the house to help his sister, and calls the incident "a warrantless invasion of her home by four threatening police officers."

According to the state's attorney's office, Zollicoffer had twice engaged in "inappropriate" conduct during court proceedings for his nephew last year.

On one occasion, he approached the judge and explained that one of the defendants was his nephew. And on another, he spoke sternly to a prosecutor after her closing argument, saying he would be checking into her performance to see whether she was guilty of prosecutorial misconduct.

Last year, Hutchings pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

In yesterday's proceedings, Hutchings was represented by Assistant Public Defender Arch McFadden, and Zollicoffer was not present.

For the state, the case was handled by Frank Meyer, a Baltimore County prosecutor, to avoid a possible conflict of interest.

Carolyn Hutchings, Zollicoffer's sister, has an administrative job in the city state's attorney's office. The office did not want her son's cases to be handled by anyone who might have a relationship with her.

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