When police commit perjury, our rights are truly imperiled

March 12, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

KENYA Kiongozi and I stood next to each other in the courtroom at the Northern District police station on Independence Day in 1969 as the police colonel stood in front of the judge.

The day before, we and 10 others had been arrested in front of Western District headquarters on Mount Street while protesting a police brutality case. A police dog had attacked a woman in the 2000 block of Edmondson Ave. days before. The protesters were charged with, among other things, inciting to riot.

Col. Frank Battaglia had spoken to us only moments before the arrest. When we made it clear we would not stop the protest, he went back across Mount Street and ordered his charges to take us in. In court the next morning, Battaglia added a bit to the story.

"I saw a brick and a bottle come sailing over my shoulder as I walked back," Battaglia told the judge. Kiongozi and I shot each other a look. We had had our first brush with that "p" word we're not supposed to associate with police: perjury.

Now comes U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis nearly 34 years later, bringing up, in public and from the bench, that dreaded double-p term: police perjury. In a Monday Sun article by reporter Gail Gibson, Davis chided Baltimore police for telling "knowing lies" in one search warrant affidavit and a seeming aversion to constitutional rights in another.

Davis didn't stop there. He said the Baltimore state's attorney's office had to plead out or drop cases because of shoddy police work, that cops in certain areas of Baltimore and Baltimore County would never roust a sleeping woman from her bed at 4 a.m. to look for drugs and guns, as happened in West Baltimore. Davis hinted that stupid, uneducated, anti-cop jurors are not to blame for so many acquittals in the city, but that haphazard and negligent police are.

Such criticism of police is rare in these parts. City Solicitor Thurman Zollicoffer made comments similar to Davis' a while back and got called a racist for his candor. He was interfering illegally on behalf of his nephew, his critics fumed. Zollicoffer's claim that he was concerned that police were making an illegal search of his sister's home went unheeded. The same charge can't be made of Davis. He's got no biases one way or another for either defendant in the cases mentioned in Gibson's story.

Once the heat got off Zollicoffer, we Balti-morons returned to our usual whipping girl, State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy, who regularly gets it from the mayor, the cops and the press.

When police are scolded, it's about commissioners using slush funds that don't involve a dime of taxpayer money, or for firing top command staff if they happen to be the color critics favor.

But upbraid the police for violating civil liberties and the Constitution? Suggest that perjury might be afoot? Oh, heaven forfend.

Not even the beleaguered Edward Norris, now head of the state police, had to face such questions when he went before the City Council. It was "Why did you fire this black one or that black one? Why is there still racism in the department?" Trampling on civil liberties is fine, it seems, if you're the right color.

Baltimore's Punt-On-First-Down Crew - they proudly call themselves the City Council - didn't ask new police Commissioner Kevin Clark one question about how he would curtail violations of constitutional rights and civil liberties. It's not their concern. Thus we should consider it our darned good luck we have Davis around.

"I am not here to protect the world against the [Mason] Weavers of the world," Davis said in speaking of one of the suspects. "I am here to protect everybody's constitutional rights. Everybody's."

We should feel blessed that Davis throws garbage cases out of court and has police start again. Because he's right - about the slipshod police work, the perjury, the juries, everything.

Defendants in District Court traffic cases have told judges that the officer testifying against them is not the one who stopped them, to no avail. I experienced the same thing, then had to ask myself a sobering question: If cops are willing to lie about penny-ante traffic cases, what will they do in those involving homicide and/or drugs?

And what happens when those citizens who witness these monkeyshines in traffic court get called for jury duty in Circuit Court? Baltimore police have whined for a while that city jurors don't trust them.

Wake up, guys and gals. Judge Andre Davis just gave you a clue as to why.

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