Veteran officer acquitted of charges in arrest of innocent man in drug case

Items had been planted in internal affairs `sting'

December 17, 2003|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore judge yesterday acquitted a veteran city police officer of perjury and misconduct charges stemming from her arrest of an innocent bystander and her contention that he had hidden drugs and cash behind a bush one evening in March.

The items had actually been planted by internal affairs detectives conducting a random integrity sting designed to catch officers pocketing the drugs or money.

After Circuit Judge Lynn K. Stewart read her verdict, Agent Jacqueline Folio was swarmed by friends, family members and fellow officers who offered her hugs and slaps on the back. Folio, a 14-year veteran, declined to comment after the bench trial, saying she wanted to spend time with her family.

Her lawyer, Clarke F. Ahlers, portrayed the agent as having "excellent moral character" and said she would never have lied on a court document to arrest a petty drug dealer. "This agent is a truth-teller who has been called a liar," Ahlers said during his closing argument.

Prosecutor A. Thomas Krehely Jr. declined to comment after the verdict.

A series of defense witnesses - as well as those for the prosecution - testified that Folio was a hard-working, well-regarded and well-respected officer. Folio, 41, still faces police administrative charges, officials said yesterday.

Prosecutors and police alleged that Folio lied in court documents when she accused an 18-year-old man of planting a bag of drugs and cash behind a bush in Southeast Baltimore one evening in March. In her statement of charges, Folio wrote that she had observed the man place the items there.

That was impossible because internal affairs officers had stashed the bag - containing fake drugs and $250 - behind the bush.

After planting the drugs, the internal affairs detectives - pretending to be witnesses - then called dispatchers and described a man stashing the drugs. That man's description mirrored that of a teen-ager walking nearby - Leon Burgess, 18.

After receiving a radio call about the man hiding the drugs, Folio reported seeing Burgess and directed colleagues to stop him and two friends as they walked away from the area. She later found the drugs and had Burgess arrested.

On the witness stand Monday, Folio testified that she did not mean to leave the impression that she had observed anyone stash the bag, and called that mistaken account the result of a "run-on sentence."

Instead, the agent testified that she meant to write that she had seen the person who matched the description of the man reported by dispatchers.

Stewart did not directly address why she acquitted Folio, who had waived her right to a jury trial. But the judge highlighted what appeared to be the inconsistent and vague statements of a police officer who testified for the prosecution. She also said that the prosecution did not meet its burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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