Probe of police officer ending

At issue is whether 8-year veteran lied about making comment to teen

Dismissal from force possible

Reese denied trying to get boy to admit a crime

Annapolis

October 31, 2003|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

The Annapolis Police Department is close to completing an internal investigation into whether an officer lied under oath when he denied goading a teen-age murder suspect who had invoked his Miranda rights into talking, police officials said.

In a police holding cell about a year ago, Officer Curtis Reese reportedly told Leeander Jerome Blake, "I bet you want to talk now, huh?" after the teen-ager was handed court papers saying he had been implicated in the killing of 51-year-old businessman Straughan Lee Griffin and could face the death penalty if convicted.

The lead investigator, Detective William Johns, said he pushed Reese out of the cellblock and loudly reprimanded him for possibly violating Blake's rights. Johns said he reported the incident to a supervisor.

Reese, an eight-year Annapolis police veteran, denied during a court hearing in May making the statement, but other police officers, prosecutors and the defense attorney all say he did.

Speaking generally, Police Chief Joseph S. Johnson said yesterday, "I don't take kindly to anybody lying, and there are situations where lying is a crime."

Johnson said the department began an internal investigation a year ago into the matter but that it was expanded after "some things came out in court." He would not elaborate.

Reese was unavailable for comment, said Annapolis police spokesman Hal Dalton.

Cpl. John K. Miller, a police union official, would only confirm that a union lawyer is representing Reese.

Police officials said that any officer who is found to have lied in court faces possible discipline, up to dismissal from the 125-officer force.

In ruling in June that Reese had illegally interrogated Blake on Oct. 26 last year, Circuit Judge Pamela L. North said she found Johns to be a more credible witness than Reese because, she said, "Police are not likely to make up facts which are highly damaging to their own case."

Prosecutors acknowledged in a court brief that they, too, believe Reese made the statement to Blake, calling it "unfortunate, uncalled for and unnecessary."

Asked about the possibility that Reese committed perjury, Kristin Riggin, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office, said only that prosecutors "simply cannot discuss any peripheral matters to a case" that appears headed for trial.

Reese's statement was the focus of a Court of Special Appeals decision this week reversing North's ruling to toss out Blake's alleged confession.

North had ruled it inadmissible because she believed Reese's interaction with Blake to be illegal interrogation.

In a 2-1 decision, a three-judge panel found Reese's statement to be "a blurt" and more of a rhetorical question than interrogation.

The appeals court ruling clears the way for the murder case against Blake to proceed.

"I am, and my officers are, elated," Chief Johnson said of the appeals court decision. "We're pleased and relieved."

But Blake's defense attorney, Kenneth W. Ravenell, called the majority opinion "highly political."

He said the panel had no basis for overturning North's ruling other than the fact that not doing so would jeopardize a high-profile murder case.

Blake, 18, and Terrence Tolbert, 20, are accused of gunning down Griffin in front of his Cumberland Court home and running over him with his Jeep Cherokee on Sept. 19 last year. The crime stunned the well-to-do neighborhood near the State House.

Both suspects were charged with first-degree murder about a month after Griffin's death. But both suspects have been out of jail as prosecutors have appealed decisions by separate circuit judges to exclude crucial evidence.

Saying police officers should have read Tolbert his Miranda rights a second time after he allegedly admitted involvement in a crime, a circuit judge threw out part of Tolbert's statement in September.

Prosecutors also appealed that decision to the Court of Special Appeals, and a hearing date had not been set as of yesterday afternoon.

Chief Johnson said he has not opened an internal investigation in that case and that the outcome of the Blake appeal would have no bearing on the internal probe of Reese's conduct.

"We've been reviewing this since the moment it came to light," he said, "long before the appeals process began."

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