Questions raised in commissioner probe

Inquiry focuses on dispute at city police chief's home

May 28, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

The investigation that will likely determine Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark's future with the department enters its 10th day today, as some domestic violence investigators question his agency's handling of the case.

Experts who train domestic violence investigators said the initial hours after an alleged assault are the most crucial for information gathering. And it appears they may have slipped away from Baltimore police.

In the first hours after a domestic incident, everyone involved in the dispute should be interviewed, any children present should be interviewed, and the possible crime scene should be photographed, experts said.

Reports released by Baltimore police do not give any indication that officers interviewed Clark, spoke with his 4-year-old son, or visited the inside of his North Baltimore apartment in the hours after a domestic dispute there May 15.

Police spokesman Matt Jablow said that - to his knowledge - the department has released all reports on the incident.

One of the police reports didn't mention Clark by name, instead referring to him as "a male known to officers and who will remain anonymous and known as `the male' for the purpose of this report."

"There are some things here that just don't pass the smell test," said Dave Thomas, a former Montgomery County police officer who is the assistant director of the domestic violence education program at the Johns Hopkins University.

Clark remains on voluntary, paid leave while Howard County police conduct an administrative inquiry into the domestic dispute.

Officials in Howard County, speaking under the condition of anonymity, told The Sun this week that the investigation is being led by the Police Department's No. 2 commander and the head of its internal affairs division - Bill McMahon and Luther Johnson, respectively.

A spokesman for Mayor Martin O'Malley said the mayor expects to receive from Howard police "an adequate recapping of what happened that night." Howard police officials said they will report their findings to the mayor because he requested the report.

"He needs to see the report to determine what the next steps will be," said O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese.

Officials at the city state's attorney's office said this week that they would only be able to pursue a criminal investigation into the incident if Clark's fiancee files a complaint or if the case is referred to them by a law enforcement agency - likely the Baltimore Police Department.

Police became involved in the dispute early on the morning of May 15. Clark's fiancee, Blanca Gerena, emerged from their apartment about 4 a.m. and asked the uniformed officers stationed outside if she could use a phone. They asked if she was OK and in the ensuing conversation both heard her say, "He assault me," according to their reports.

Neither officer reported seeing injuries.

In subsequent reports, the district commander stated that he interviewed Gerena at a nearby gas station, as she was crying, and she said she didn't want to file a report. He also stated that a friend of Gerena's later called him to say that Gerena was suffering from neck and arm injuries and that the commissioner had committed previous assaults.

The friend, Leonor Trujillo, has since told The Sun she never made such statements.

At a news conference two days after the dispute, Clark and Gerena said they had an argument but there was no assault. Through Jablow, they have declined all further requests for comment.

Experts said Howard police face a tough challenge. They were not asked to begin investigating the case until late May 18 - nearly four days after it occurred.

"They have no crime scene," said Greg Beitzel, an investigations trainer who founded the domestic violence unit at the Henrico County, Va., police. "They have to rely on what was gathered initially."

If an investigation begins several days late, evidence may have already been removed, Beitzel said.

O'Malley had implied in a press release May 18 that he expected the investigation to be completed last week.

But domestic violence investigation experts said a probe such as this would involve interviewing people in New York - where Clark and Gerena are from - checking telephone records and seeking additional witnesses.

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