A man charged with attempted murder will ask to be released from jail today - a request made possible because two Baltimore police detectives are being investigated for perjury.
The internal police investigation into Southern District detectives Clarence Grear and Kevin E. Jones has ruined nearly two dozen cases and put another 70 in jeopardy. Many say city juries have for years been wary of testimony given by Baltimore police, and defense attorneys say the new investigation could further erode trust in the department.
"This story is not going to change the mind of every single individual, but I think over time if you keep deceiving the public, eventually you've lost all of your trust," said Timothy Mitchell, a Greenbelt attorney and the president of the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys' Association. Mitchell and others said the investigation will likely lead to petitions for new trials from people convicted in cases that involved testimony from Grear and Jones.
Today, one suspect arrested by the two policemen, Antonio Hall, will seek bail after having been accused of trying to kill a witness in a friend's Baltimore County homicide trial. The city state's attorney's office had targeted Hall, 24, for vigorous prosecution because he has been a suspect in repeated violent offenses.
Hall has been held without bail since being arrested this year in the nonfatal shooting, which occurred in February. His attorney, Catherine Flynn, requested the special bail review hearing because of questions raised by the internal police investigation.
"It puts the state's case in a weaker position," Flynn said.
Prosecutors have told Flynn that they intend to proceed to trial this month, she said. But they will not call the two primary investigators - Grear and Jones - as witnesses, she said. Instead, they will rely on the man Hall is accused of shooting. If that man sticks with his original story, the prosecution's case might be salvaged, Flynn said. If the witness changes his story, it could leave prosecutors with no one to explain his original account, she said.
"I don't know how strong the case is when you don't call the detectives," she said. "The jury's going to wonder."
Dan Fickus, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said Grear and Jones are being represented by the union's lawyers. He called them "excellent detectives.
"We'll stand by their track record," Fickus said. "There's never been any indication of impropriety on anything they've ever done in the past."
This is not the first time that the paths of Hall and one of the detectives under investigation have crossed. Court records indicate an indictment against the South Baltimore man was dismissed because of Grear's actions. In 2002, a judge tossed out a shooting case against Hall after a tape of a witness statement found on Grear's desk proved to be potentially helpful to Hall's case.
"Police credibility in Baltimore is always an issue," Flynn said. She said that jury members are aware of a difference between how officers describe their treatment of suspects and what they observe on the streets.
Several Baltimore judges have said juries often sympathize more with defendants than with officers.
Several incidents have helped fuel public mistrust of police.
In 2000, prosecutors dropped drug charges against an 18-year-old after an officer was accused of planting evidence, and other cases were feared to have been jeopardized. After lengthy disciplinary proceedings, the officer resigned from the force in 2003.
In 1997, the fatal shooting of a man near Lexington Market by an officer was captured on videotape and sparked community protest even though the shooting was found to be justified. Prosecutors declined to file charges against the officer.
The investigation into Grear and Jones stems from a search they conducted in July of a suspect's car - and whether at least one of the detectives lied about having a warrant at the time they searched it.
Yesterday, several city leaders and top defense lawyers agreed that the most recent police officers to come under scrutiny deserve the same presumption of innocence afforded to defendants in criminal cases. They also expressed gratitude that the Police Department and the state's attorney's office are taking steps to undo the officers' possible mistakes.
"It makes the community comfortable that the PoliceDepartment will do its investigation and that when they find wrongdoing, they will correct it," said G.I. Johnson, president of the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Baltimore City Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, whose council area includes the Southern District, said the possible conduct of the officers would reinforce negative opinions among the African-American community about police.
`A serious issue'