City officer accused in police sting suspended

Man, 18, arrested falsely for drug possession

March 29, 2003|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A veteran police officer was suspended early yesterday after she falsely arrested an 18-year-old man for possessing drugs, sources said, that had been planted in Southeast Baltimore by internal affairs detectives conducting a random integrity sting.

Officer Jacqueline Folio, 41, a 13-year veteran of the Baltimore force, is scheduled to attend a suspension hearing Monday and declined to comment yesterday. Police officials also refused to discuss the case publicly.

But departmental sources and others familiar with the investigation described an internal sting operation similar to one that ensnared a city officer two years ago. They said that Folio was on patrol in the area near the 3000 block of E. Pratt St. Thursday evening when she received a call to investigate drug activity.

Folio found a bag containing cash and suspected cocaine near East Pratt Street and South Ellwood Avenue and placed the container in her pocket, the sources said.

The drugs had been planted earlier by internal affairs detectives, police sources said. It is unclear whether the drugs in the bag were real. In previous sting operations, detectives have used fake drugs.

A few minutes later, Leon Burgess, 18, and two friends were stopped by several officers in the 3000 block of E. Lombard St. One of the officers told Burgess that he had been spotted placing drugs and cash behind a bush, the teen-ager said in an interview.

As Burgess sought answers from the officers, he said, he was directed to Folio, who was writing down information and refused to speak to him. "They said she was in charge," he said.

Burgess said an officer showed him drugs and money. The teen-ager almost laughed, he said, because the bills were crisp and clean.

"Junkies have sweaty palms," Burgess said, explaining how he knew such crisp money was not connected to the drug trade.

Burgess said that during a ride in a police wagon before being processed, he was upset and frustrated. Burgess, who said he was on probation for stealing cars and trying to stay out of trouble, was worried that the arrest would result in jail time.

"I felt violated," Burgess said. "I knew that this was set on me. ... I'm on probation, and I'd be gone."

In court documents charging Burgess with possessing the bag of drugs and cash, Folio wrote that she had seen Burgess drop the bag behind a bush at the corner of East Pratt Street and South Ellwood Avenue, and that she recovered it.

She made a radio call describing Burgess and two others with him, she wrote in the charging papers. Officers then stopped Burgess in the 3000 block of E. Lombard St., Folio wrote.

Prosecutors declined to charge Burgess with any crimes, and he was released. Internal affairs officials drove him home, Burgess said.

The arrest was not Burgess' first encounter with Folio, the teen-ager said. Folio had run him off street corners several times, he said, and last month threatened to arrest him for loitering.

The sting was similar to one conducted in September 2000 that led to criminal misconduct charges against city Police Agent Brian L. Sewell, who was accused of planting fake drugs on an 18-year-old man.

The criminal charges were dropped in January 2001 after key evidence was stolen from a police internal affairs office in a burglary. In November 2001, Sewell was found guilty of misconduct by an internal police disciplinary panel and was fired from the force.

Last year, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled that Sewell was entitled to a new disciplinary trial because Mayor Martin O'Malley and then-Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris made public remarks before the hearing that the officer was guilty of the crime and a disgrace to the department.

Sewell has since resigned in exchange for being allowed to collect back pay.

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