`Victimless' criminal case ends with a slap on wrist

November 23, 2002|By GREGORY KANE

THE CHARGE: solicitation for prostitution and assaulting a police officer. The assault - by biting - was so severe it left Officer Patty Silver of the Baltimore Police Department with possible permanent nerve damage in her hand.

The sentence: 100 hours of community service and the case being put on the inactive docket.

Thus did Jose Delacruz walk out of the North Avenue District Court Monday morning, free to roam the streets of Dundalk Avenue and troll for hookers once again.

Silver was working undercover and posing as a prostitute along Dundalk Avenue in early September, when Delacruz approached her and solicited a sex act.

When Silver tried to arrest him, Delacruz bit her once on the right elbow and three times on the left hand. He was arrested after leading police on a chase through the neighborhood.

So you probably figured the guy, after assaulting a cop, would get to court and the judge would hand him some time, right? Have you forgotten where you are?

This is Baltimore. Do something stupid here and get shot and killed by the police, your family gets to collect a cool half-million bucks. Bite an undercover officer and cause nerve damage, and you can walk out of court with a virtual slap on the wrist.

But there's another twist to this story. Cynthia Gaver, vice president of an anti-crime group called DAART -- Dundalk Avenue Area Residents Together -- was in court Monday.

She wanted to be sure Judge Askew W. Gatewood Jr. got some input from community residents victimized by the "victimless" crime of prostitution.

In the court records was a community impact statement Gaver wrote within days of Delacruz's arrest.

"When a prospective `john,' like the defendant," Gaver wrote, "visits my neighborhood, he will find prostitutes -- many of whom are addicted to the hardest, most unforgiving substances like crack. ... [They] carry one or more of the diseases transmittable through sexual intercourse and needle exchange and the transmission of body fluids."

But the Dundalk Avenue victims would not carry this day. Delacruz, the defense and prosecution contended, had "extenuating circumstances" that led him to bite Silver.

Delacruz is a deaf mute. Margaret Burns, spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office, said that all parties agreed to the decision not to pursue prosecution and to impose 100 hours of community service because:

The community service is assigned to a church that has a ministry for deaf mutes.

Delacruz didn't understand or hear Silver when she said "police."

The Department of Parole and Probation would not be able to properly supervise Delacruz.

The gut reaction here is: "So what?" Delacruz is a deaf mute, not an idiot. He knows soliciting prostitutes comes with some risks -- not the least of which is being arrested by an undercover police officer.

Assuming his disability justifies his making a meal of Silver, not going to jail or getting probation, what would have been wrong with fining him? If he has money to go on a hunt for sex, he's got money to pay a fine.

"I'd rather him come back and clean up the condoms and syringes in my neighborhood," Gaver said outside the courtroom. "Prostitution hurts a lot of people. That's why they go somewhere other than where they live. They find the darkest, remotest place, and that happens to be my street. Ninety percent of the johns aren't even from Baltimore City."

Was this message conveyed to Delacruz through the interpreter who was in court? Not by Gatewood. District Court judges frequently lecture defendants on the error of their ways, but Delacruz didn't get one.

Gatewood is considered a fine judge, so we can assume he didn't lecture Delacruz because something might have been lost in translation. But, assuming Delacruz can read, maybe someone will pass this along to him.

Here's the lecture Delacruz should have gotten:

"Sir, you got off easy today. You may think, like many people, that soliciting prostitutes is a victimless crime. I assure you it is not. You indirectly contributed to every social ill that afflicts this city. Cases of AIDS are rampant. Most of the prostitutes are drug addicts and give any money you pay them to the drug dealers who have turned city streets into killing fields.

"It is you, and others like you, who contribute to the murder rate the mayor and police commissioner fight to keep down. It is money from people like you that goes to the miscreants who firebombed and killed the Dawson family.

"Thank your lucky stars that the people of this city have not awakened and pushed for the harsher penalties you and other johns so richly deserve."

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