Friend rebuts assault account

She says she never spoke to city major about dispute involving police chief

May 20, 2004|By Stephanie Hanes, Doug Donovan and Laura Vozzella | Stephanie Hanes, Doug Donovan and Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

A woman quoted in police reports as saying Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark assaulted his fiancee last weekend and on previous occasions said yesterday that she never gave that account to police.

Leonor Trujillo of Parkville told The Sun yesterday that she never spoke to Maj. Regis Phelan, the Northern District commander who investigated a domestic dispute early Saturday at Clark's residence.

"I didn't talk to nobody," Trujillo said in an interview outside her Woodside Avenue home.

Phelan declined to comment, referring questions to a police spokesman, who also did not comment.

Trujillo's statements come as some of the city's top black leaders are saying Clark is being targeted by Phelan, who was reprimanded by the commissioner in January.

Today, the NAACP's local branch, Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden and Del. Salima S. Marriott plan to hold an 11 a.m. protest outside police headquarters to decry the police union's demand that Clark step down while Howard County police officials conduct an independent investigation into the incident.

Clark initially said he would not step down but, on reflection, decided Tuesday to do so, said Mayor Martin O'Malley, who said the decision was Clark's.

O'Malley praised Clark at a news conference yesterday, and said he looked forward to the conclusion of the investigation.

"I truly believe Commissioner Clark is the best police commissioner we've had in decades," O'Malley said. "He's done a terrific job, and I look forward to his coming back and continuing that job."

McFadden noted that the previous commissioner, Edward T. Norris, was not asked to step down while he was being scrutinized for using a department expense account for lavish personal spending. Norris pleaded guilty in March to federal public corruption charges. A federal investigation of Norris became public while he was state police superintendent, but a city-ordered audit of Norris' spending was conducted while he was commissioner.

McFadden said the men were treated differently because of race. Norris is white. Clark is black.

"Mr. Norris was being investigated for misappropriation of funds and having liaisons with other women," McFadden said. "At no point did we hear the Fraternal Order of Police asking him to resign. ... Some of the police officers escorted him on some of the liaisons. At no time did I hear them indicate that the prior commissioner should resign while he's being investigated."

On Saturday, police officers providing security for Clark's North Baltimore apartment filed reports of a domestic dispute between the commissioner and his fiancee, Blanca Gerena.

Neither officer reported signs of physical injuries, but both said that Gerena stated, in broken English, "He assault me."

On Monday, Clark and Gerena appeared at a news conference where they both denied any abuse took place, and said the dispute was only an argument. Clark also said his fiancee, whom he has been dating for 14 years, speaks perfectly clear English.

The next day, more police reports were released. Those were written by Phelan, who responded to the dispute about 4 a.m.

Phelan reported that he discussed the dispute with Gerena's friend, Trujillo, who arrived to provide her a ride. He reported that he was asked to follow them to a nearby gas station. Phelan then stated in his report that Gerena did not want to file a report or go to the hospital.

"She was visibly shaken and had an appearance as if crying," Phelan wrote. Phelan also reported that Gerena's friend told him, in a subsequent phone call, that Gerena had suffered injuries to the arm and neck. In a separate report, Phelan wrote the friend told him "this is not the first time he, (Police Commissioner) has done this to her."

G.I. Johnson, president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, questioned Phelan's report, contending that it was influenced by earlier disciplinary actions taken against Phelan by Clark.

"It wasn't done in a credible manner," Johnson said of the report. "It seemed like someone used that purposely to put a hit on Clark. ... It has the feelings of a setup."

In January, Clark found that Phelan was guilty of misconduct stemming from an incident at an October crime-trend meeting where he challenged a higher-ranking officer. Phelan lost seven vacation days and received a letter of reprimand, officials said.

Dan Fickus, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, defended Phelan.

"Regis Phelan is very credible, and I would never question his integrity in any form," Fickus said.

Fickus was echoed by Jason Canapp, president of the York Road Partnership, an umbrella organization of 20 neighborhood associations within Phelan's Northern District command.

Canapp said Phelan is so well-respected that the associations prepared a protest in response to Clark's disciplinary action. The protest was canceled to avoid more discipline being taken against Phelan.

"I find it hard to believe they were setting the commissioner up," Canapp said. "I find it hard to believe it's within [Phelan] to do something like that."

Canapp said accusations against Clark and Phelan were "very serious," and all judgment should be withheld until after Howard County conducts its investigation.

"Everyone is aware of the racial tensions in the Police Department," Canapp said. "I think we all need to cool down and let this play itself out."

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