City police replace `flex squad' amid criminal probe

January 10, 2006|By JULIE BYKOWICZ AND GUS G. SENTEMENTES | JULIE BYKOWICZ AND GUS G. SENTEMENTES,SUN REPORTERS

The Baltimore Police Department has replaced a specialized unit in the city's Southwestern District because most of its officers have been suspended amid investigations of rape, drug possession and illegal gambling.

A new group of officers was assigned to take over the district's "flex squad," whose members are freed from the rigors of street patrol to target criminals involved in violence and drugs. The FBI also has said it will investigate the suspected rape, adding more scrutiny to a district troubled by allegations of misconduct as it struggles to curtail a spike in homicides.

Police detectives who searched the Southwestern District station house shortly after a woman complained of sexual misconduct by officers last month found a variety of what appear to be illegal drugs and other items prohibited in stationhouses, according to a search warrant affidavit obtained by The Sun yesterday.

The document states items seized include dice, a Texas Hold-em poker set, pornographic magazines, counterfeit DVDs and suspected heroin, marijuana and cocaine - some in a duffel bag and some in a pocket of an officer's uniform. Drugs must be immediately inventoried in the department's evidence control, according to police protocol.

The drug investigation grew out of allegations of rape made by a 22-year-old woman who was taken into custody Dec. 27.

She accused an officer of coercing her to have sex in exchange for her freedom while two other officers stood by.

Jemini Jones, Steven P. Hatley and Brian J. Shaffer were indicted last week on charges of rape, conspiracy to rape, sexual offense, assault and violation of official duties.

Jones, 28, joined the force in March 2000, police said. He turned himself in on Friday and was released on $100,000 bail.

Hatley, 27, joined in February 2003, and Shaffer, 28, joined the force in June 2002, police said. Both men turned themselves in to authorities yesterday morning, and each posted $100,000 bail by the end of the day, according to city prosecutors.

No drug charges have been filed in the case, though the investigation is continuing.

Jones' attorney, Warren A. Brown, said his client is innocent and that evidence in the case is thin. Michael E. Davey, who represents Shaffer and Hatley, could not be reached for comment.

A fourth member of the flex squad has been suspended after police said in documents that they found suspected marijuana in the pocket of his uniform. He has not been criminally charged.

A fifth officer in the squad, Vicki Mengel, was suspended in November when she was caught at a police bust of a high-stakes poker game in Northeast Baltimore. The nine-year veteran officer faces trial Feb. 14 on gambling charges.

The squad's supervisor, Sgt. Robert Smith, has not been suspended, police said. The supervisor was on vacation during the rape investigation, said Matt Jablow, a police spokesman.

Jablow said the district has formed a new flex squad composed of different officers and a new supervisor. He declined to comment further on the investigation.

Prosecutors said the impact of the suspensions in the squad is significant. With the credibility of many of the officers in question, prosecutors may drop dozens of cases they handled - perhaps even more than 100, said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office.

Jones is accused of raping the 22-year-old woman on Dec. 27 while Shaffer and Hatley are accused of standing by. The woman told investigators that the three officers approached her, an 18-year-old and two men as they sat in a car smoking marijuana, according to police documents.

The officers told the men to leave, handcuffed the women and took them to an office inside the Southwestern District stationhouse, the report states.

According to the report, the 22-year-old said that Jones asked her, "What are you willing to do to stay out of jail?" The woman told investigators that she was left alone with Jones and "agreed to have sex for her freedom," the report states.

She reported her allegations, and the first search warrant was executed on the stationhouse Dec. 28.

The list of items seized shows that the officers had property prohibited at police stations, such as pornography, poker sets and dice, in addition to drugs.

Antonio Gioia, head of the state's attorney's felony narcotics division, said the Maryland statute on how evidence is to be handled does not specify how quickly it should be submitted to evidence control by the officer who seized it.

But he said the process usually unfolds quickly because "it looks fishy" to judges and juries if evidence is sitting in an office or held by an officer for days or weeks.

"I would say it is highly discouraged" that officers keep drug evidence in their personal possession, he said.

Other search warrants also were executed in relation to the sex allegation, and Jones' attorney, Brown, said police found "a large number" of packaged condoms in his client's desk drawer.

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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