Firing of 2 deputy sheriffs doesn't seem like justice

April 01, 2003|By MICHAEL OLESKER

IT'S TIME FOR Anthony Spence and Clyde Boatwright to come in from the cold.

They were Baltimore deputy sheriffs who tried to do their job last fall and paid for it with the loss of their careers.

On Sept. 18, the two men took a distress call from Deputy Sheriff Shawna Carroll, who heard a teller at Allfirst Bank at 302 St. Paul St. cry, "That man going out the door just robbed me."

As Carroll chased her man, she put out her distress call, saying the suspect had entered Lexington Market. This set into motion the following events: At least half a dozen deputies responded. So did Lexington Market security and nearby University of Maryland officers. They all converged on a man inside the market - Rolando Sanchez, 26, a Salvadoran construction worker on his lunch break.

But he was the wrong man.

Sanchez was thrown to the floor, handcuffed, and then a late-arriving deputy zapped him twice in the neck with a stun gun.

"That's the wrong man," said Carroll, arriving a moment later, scattering deputies to seek the real bank robber.

Six months later, there are victims everywhere. Sanchez is unable to work. His lawyer says he has torn tendons and ligaments in his shoulder, recurring migraine headaches and lingering emotional distress. Many in the city's Hispanic community remain infuriated by the attack, which they see as evidence of hostility toward minority immigrants. And Spence and Boatwright, alone among all the officers at the scene that day, were fired and their law enforcement careers apparently ruined.

The two former deputies believe they were wrongfully scapegoated - and make a strong case for themselves. Sheriff John Anderson, who holds power over their firing and potential rehiring, refuses to say anything at all.

As Spence, 31, and Boatwright, 26, described it the other day, they were on lunch break from guarding the Baltimore courthouse when they heard Carroll's distress call. They ran to help. They had a description of the suspect - but did not know that he had shed some of his clothes while running from the bank.

In the market's lunchtime confusion, they said, they saw Sanchez and believed he fit the robber's description. They told him to stop. Sanchez, whose English is limited, thought the officers were looking for someone else, and tried to get out of the way.

"I put a hand on his wrist," Boatwright recalled, "and he yanked it away. A Lexington Market officer arrived and walked him to a wall. Then other officers converged. It was loud in there. The other officers were yelling, `Take him off his feet.' It was a big commotion, controlled chaos. You want to move fast, before anybody goes for a gun."

With Sanchez on the floor, one hand cuffed and the other pinned beneath him, said Spence, "That's when Poma" - Deputy Massimiliano Poma, a four-year veteran - "comes up and says, `I got a taser,'" a stun gun. He shot Sanchez twice in the back of the neck.

For his punishment, Poma received a one-day suspension. In a Charles Village coffee shop last week, Boatwright and Spence slid a photograph across the table: a photo of Sheriff John Anderson's wedding. Poma stands a few feet from Anderson.

"They're buddies," said Boatwright. "So he gets a one-day suspension, and we get fired."

While acknowledging the friendship, a sheriff's office spokesman, Toby Goodwin, denied any connection with Anderson's decision to suspend Poma while firing Spence and Boatwright. Poma has been ordered not to talk about the incident.

But a lengthy departmental investigation concluded that Poma "failed to render aid or assistance to an injured person who was tased; failed to complete an appropriate investigation; and failed to notify a supervisor. Moreover failed to follow this agency's policy as to treatment of persons in custody."

The same investigation said Spence and Boatwright left their post "without authorization from a supervisor and failed to use proper arrest procedures for an injured person."

Three weeks ago, Spence and Boatwright apologized to Sanchez at the office of his attorney, J. Stephen Simms.

"We asked for the meeting," Spence said. "We're human beings, we didn't want to see anybody hurt. And I didn't want this to be Rolando's perception of police. We're not bad people. I put on that uniform every morning wanting to help people."

"We didn't do anything malicious," said Boatwright. "We tried to put ourselves in his shoes. He could suffer the rest of his life for this. We're sorry about his injuries, and we wanted to tell him that. But we didn't cause the injuries."

At the meeting, covered by The Sun's Allison Klein, the three men hugged and then prayed together.

"I am happy you are apologizing, and I accept," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "I want to know why the two of you were fired." His attorney agreed.

But Sheriff Anderson, the only man with power over their jobs, will say nothing at all.

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