Investigative document on Clark was destroyed, police memos say

Howard County police call it `preliminary draft'

November 10, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

A "confidential investigative document" about Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark's domestic dispute in May was destroyed before Mayor Martin O'Malley announced that Clark had been cleared, according to memos written by two high-ranking city police officials.

But a spokeswoman for the Howard County Police Department, which conducted the investigation, played down any significance, saying yesterday that the document was nearly identical to the final report handed over to Baltimore City Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler during a meeting June 1.

"The preliminary draft was destroyed so there would not be any confusion," said spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn, who added that she did not know who did it.

In one memo, the city's internal affairs commander wrote that during the June meeting, a Howard County police lieutenant asked Tyler about "the destruction of the previous confidential investigative document." Tyler, the city's chief lawyer, said yesterday that he merely told Lt. Luther Johnson that draft copies do not have to be retained.

"I didn't destroy any documents here, nor did I direct anyone to do that," Tyler said.

The memos, obtained yesterday by The Sun, were written by Chief Zeinab A. Rabold and Deputy Maj. Joseph E. Smith, both of the department's internal affairs division. They were given anonymously to Mary R. Craig, an attorney who represents The Sun and WBAL-TV.

Rabold, who addressed her note "confidential memo to file," and Smith declined to comment. It was unclear why the memos were written. Police spokesman Matt Jablow did not dispute their authenticity.

The Howard County report and documents related to it have been the subject of a legal tug of war between O'Malley and the news media.

Clark - a New York City police commander who was hired here early last year - was involved in a domestic dispute with his fiancee May 15. At O'Malley's request, Howard County police agreed to conduct an independent investigation.

The report was handed to city officials at the June 1 meeting. The next day, O'Malley announced that it found any charges against Clark to be unsubstantiated, but refused to release it. The Sun and WBAL-TV filed a lawsuit seeking access to the report, and O'Malley lost a five-month legal battle to keep it private. He released the report at 5 p.m. on Election Day.

The report confirms O'Malley's account that there was a lack of evidence to support domestic assault charges. However, the report states that investigators believe Clark's fiancee told officers stationed outside the couple's condominium that he had assaulted her. It also states that Clark and his fiancee could not explain noise coming from their condo early that morning. And it notes what it calls "possible past ... domestic incidents or assaults involving Commissioner Clark."

They include a 1989 abuse allegation that led New York police to place Clark on administrative duties for four months while officers investigated. The report does not say how the investigation was resolved, but Clark has said he was promoted and returned to work.

O'Malley said yesterday that he still believes the report is a personnel document and should not have been released.

"We need to resolve this whole thing as soon as possible," he said. "We need to move on."

A city Circuit Court judge will hold a closed hearing Friday to review the evidence obtained by Howard County police. The judge will determine what should be made public.

Llewellyn said the preliminary report that was later destroyed had been given to city officials so they could brief O'Malley.

Tyler said he and other city officials, but not the mayor, reviewed the draft and suggested minor changes. An example was the inclusion that Clark was never characterized as an aggressor in any report of New York domestic problems.

Eugene O'Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and ex-New York police officer and prosecutor, said there is no clear rule on whether investigatory documents can be destroyed. "The one thing that's clear is they should be handled in an extremely cautious fashion," he said.

The memos also refer to information from New York that had not yet been obtained by Howard County investigators when they completed their report.

Tyler said Howard County police had directed Clark to get a letter from New York stating that the alleged 1989 domestic abuse had been investigated and that the charges had been found to be unsubstantiated.

The city solicitor said the letter never came but that New York officials assured investigators that if the charges had been proved, Clark would not have received several promotions.

The Rabold memo is undated. Smith's is dated Aug. 30 - nearly three months after the meeting. Tyler called the timing "unusual."

The Aug. 30 memo was written the day before an affidavit from Rabold was submitted in the court case against The Sun.

In that affidavit, Rabold said she neither received nor reviewed the report.

Both memos state that although the report was addressed to Rabold, Tyler accepted it for the city. Tyler said yesterday that the report was never intended for Rabold but was meant for the mayor.

Sun staff writers Laura Vozzella and Lynn Anderson contributed to this article.

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