Clark's private life now under public scrutiny

Police chief accused in assault on fiancee remains married

May 21, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

HILLBURN, N.Y. - Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark had warned his family there would be controversy.

After Clark took over as the city's top police officer last year, he began making major staffing changes to the department's leadership. That, his son says, is when Clark called and told him to be prepared.

"He told me don't be surprised if I hear rumors. It's probably from someone who is not going to be happy with what he's doing," said Kevin Clark Jr. during an interview here yesterday.

So when his father called this week to say he was being investigated in the possible assault of his longtime fiancee, the 23-year-old accepted it as just that: a false accusation.

"I know my father," Clark said. "I know he didn't do it. I just know he didn't."

Clark is one of four children born to the commissioner and his wife, Natasha Clark. The children range from their teens to their mid-20s. Their parents separated 14 years ago - but never divorced - and the commissioner has been dating his fiancee, Blanca Gerena, since about that time. Clark and Gerena have a 4-year-old son.

Clark has temporarily stepped down as commissioner while Howard County officials conduct an independent investigation of the argument he had early Saturday morning with Gerena. Gerena and Clark have said there was no assault.

Through a spokesman, Clark declined to comment for this article.

Police became involved in the dispute shortly before 4 a.m., when Gerena walked out of the couple's North Baltimore apartment and asked the officers stationed outside if she could use a phone.

They asked if she was OK and at some point in the conversation, both of them reported hearing her say in broken English, "He assault me." Neither reported seeing any signs of injury. Gerena left the scene with a friend.

Several high-ranking officers responded. One reported that the friend, Leonor Trujillo, later called him to say that Gerena suffered neck and back injuries and that Clark had assaulted her previously. In an interview with The Sun, Trujillo disputed that she made such statements.

Private life publicized

After the alleged assault, the commissioner's family situation has been put under a spotlight. It's a situation that the commissioner, who describes himself as a private man, was reluctant to discuss with reporters when he arrived in Baltimore last year.

Whether Clark's complicated personal life was anyone's business was a matter of heated dispute as details started trickling out to the public yesterday.

Many supporters of the commissioner were aghast when a reporter raised the issue at a morning demonstration outside police headquarters. After one speaker pledged to stand with Clark and "his significant other," a television reporter piped up: "Which significant other is that? The wife he's separated from or his fiancee?"

Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden responded angrily. "It's tragic that you would ask about that," McFadden said.

Police Department spokesman Matt Jablow declined to comment, saying the commissioner "keeps his private life private."

But another Clark supporter conceded the commissioner's personal life was fair game in the context of alleged domestic assault.

"It matters when something like this happens," said G.I. Johnson, president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Clark's wife

During an interview late Wednesday, Natasha Clark was reluctant to go into details of her relationship with the commissioner.

Standing on the front steps of a three-bedroom Westchester County, N.Y., home that she and the commissioner own together, Natasha Clark would only confirm that they are still married.

"He's my husband," she said. "That I can say."

When asked about a sealed 1990 court filing in which the couple apparently took some steps toward a divorce, she confirmed that she is legally married to Clark.

Natasha Clark politely refused to answer repeated questions on several topics, including whether there had been any violence in her relationship with Clark.

"I spoke to him and I have no comment on the situation," the 45-year-old said. She said they spoke after a call from The Sun to her grandmother Monday night.

After learning about the alleged domestic dispute from her grandmother, Natasha Clark said, she called her husband to check on how he was doing.

During the interview Wednesday, she initially said her husband had asked her not to speak to reporters. But later she said she did not want to go into specifics because she didn't want to get involved.

Mount Vernon - the Westchester town where Natasha Clark lives - is a nearly 70,000-person town that borders the Bronx. They once lived in the home together, and it's a 30-mile drive from the house where Clark Jr. lives in Hillburn.

"They got married young, they had standard problems and they just decided to split," their son said.

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