Jessamy criticized over case dismissal

Police who were shot acted properly, chief says

January 08, 2003|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's acting police commissioner voiced objection yesterday to a decision by the chief city prosecutor to drop charges against a man who shot four detectives in a botched drug raid, saying police acted properly and that the case should go forward.

"I take exception to the fact that she did not proceed with the charges," Commissioner John McEntee said of State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy. "I feel this should have been taken to the grand jury. That would have been an appropriate way to handle this."

Jessamy dropped the case against Lewis S. Cauthorne yesterday after concluding that the raiding officers - who were wearing street clothes - did not announce that they were police before smashing down Cauthorne's door with a battering ram and rushing in to look for drugs.

"The investigation led me to believe Mr. Cauthorne was acting in self-defense," Jessamy said. "Ultimately, I have concluded I will not present this case to the grand jury."

McEntee said he is "confident" that Jessamy thought through her decision, but he said he disagreed with the idea of declining to prosecute a man who shot and wounded four of his officers. None sustained life-threatening injuries.

"I would have liked to see everything possible prosecuted in this case," he said.

When conducting a raid, police must knock and announce their presence before breaking down a door, according to precedent-setting case law established in Wilson vs. Arkansas. The Supreme Court case also held that police must offer an opportunity for someone to answer the knock.

After the raid, the 10 members of the police team were unable to provide a consensus of what happened as they broke down the door.

Some said at least one officer yelled "police" as they entered the house, while at least five others said they couldn't remember what - if anything - was spoken in the tense moments before the raid.

Jessamy said dropping the charges put her in a difficult situation.

"We appreciate that law enforcement officers are working very hard to protect us every day," she said. "What I am concerned about is that we conform to the Supreme Court decision, as much for the safety of police officers as for citizens. I want our police officers to be safe."

But Danny Fickus, incoming president of the city police union, said Jessamy's decision sent a message to police officers that she does not support them.

"To just indiscriminately make that determination and not even give it an opportunity to go to a suppression hearing or a grand jury is just totally unfair to police officers and the officers involved and the citizens of Baltimore," Fickus said. "What message are we sending to the criminal element? What message are we sending to our officers?"

The union leader added, "Mr. Cauthorne had two defense attorneys working on his behalf - he had Warren Brown and Pat Jessamy."

Cauthorne's lawyer, Warren A. Brown, said dropping the charges was a "very important decision" by prosecutors.

"It is conceivable they would try to make [a criminal prosecution] work because of the gravity of the offense," Brown said. He also said dismissal of the charges sends a message that "you have the right to protect yourself in your own home."

Cauthorne, who was released yesterday after 50 days in jail, sat in Brown's office last night with his mother and girlfriend.

"If they just said `police,' I never would have done that," said Cauthorne.

At the time of the police raid Nov. 19, Cauthorne was at home with his mother, girlfriend and 3-year-old daughter.

Police conducted the raid at 8:55 p.m. with a search warrant, authorities have said, after they were told by an anonymous source that drugs were being sold out of the home in the 1000 block of Cameron Road.

When the two women in the house heard the door being knocked in, they screamed to Cauthorne in the basement that someone was breaking in. Cauthorne ran upstairs, grabbed the gun and shot the officers, authorities said. Police returned the gunfire, but no one else in the house was hit.

The raid yielded six bags with trace amounts of marijuana, empty vials, a razor with cocaine residue and two scales. Cauthorne is not charged with any drug or weapon offenses.

Sun staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.

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