Officer to testify in theft

Policeman who allegedly took stolen jewels at traffic stop resigned, will not face charges

February 03, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON AND GUS G. SENTEMENTES | JUSTIN FENTON AND GUS G. SENTEMENTES,SUN REPORTERS

A Baltimore police officer whose wife tried to pawn jewels he had recovered from an armed robbery at a Harford County store will not face criminal charges after agreeing to resign and testify against the men to be tried in the holdup, according to prosecutors in Baltimore and Harford counties.

The deal has angered the owner of a Baltimore County store robbed nine days after the holdup of J&M Jewelers in Bel Air, allegedly by the same man. Michael Bromwell of Bromwell Jewelers in Timonium said that the robbery of his store could have been averted had the officer handled the seized jewels appropriately.

Officer David A. Williamson found the jewels during a routine traffic stop of Brian O'Neal Hodge, according to charging documents. He arrested Hodge on a misdemeanor gun charge, but prosecutors say he took the jewels instead of putting them in the department's evidence control, where they could have been linked to the holdup in Bel Air.

Hodge, 39, posted bail on the gun charge and a little more than a week later, police said he was one of three suspects who stole $200,000 in jewels from Bromwell Jewelers and tied up owner Michael Bromwell and another employee in a back room.

"If he did his job when he originally had Hodge arrested, I never get held up," Bromwell said in an interview.

Hodge and Corey R. Cooper, 26, both of Gwynn Oak in Baltimore County, now face numerous charges related to the November armed robberies of the two stores that netted nearly $1 million in gems and jewelry.

Investigators said they were led to Hodge after Williamson's wife pawned some of the stolen goods. According to charging documents, Williamson's attorney told police that the officer had recovered the items during a traffic stop of Hodge on Nov. 17.

Williamson, who had been suspended with pay, resigned Jan. 26, according to city police spokesman Matt Jablow. Baltimore County prosecutors said the resignation was the result of an agreement in which he would testify in the Harford County case.

"Our goal in negotiating this agreement with Williamson is that we do nothing to jeopardize the successful prosecution of Hodge and his co-defendant in Baltimore County and Harford County," said Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney Stephen Bailey. "At the same time, we're able to ensure that he will never be a police officer again. We received a written admission of his wrongdoing. Should he breach any of the provisions we've reached, we're free to prosecute him."

Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly said he approved of Williamson's arrangement with Baltimore County prosecutors. "I want to be able to prosecute that person [Hodge]," he said. "We're doing this because we believe we have to."

But Bromwell, a retired Baltimore County police officer, said prosecutors are letting Williamson off too easily. He said he has filed complaints with the city police department's internal affairs and is considering legal action.

Douglas Colbert, a University of Maryland law professor, said he thinks that not charging Williamson could hurt the Harford case.

"I'm not even sure it's an effective strategy in Hodge's trial, because the officer's credibility is questionable," Colbert said. "If I'm Hodge's lawyer, I'm going to focus on showing that Williamson received a sweetheart deal and will say anything to earn dismissal of the felony charge."

But Bailey said that having Williamson in a position to testify in the Harford County case "is going to ensure that two very dangerous and armed criminals never see the light of day."

Last year, Williamson was assigned to a "special enforcement team" that worked in the western half of the city, supplementing uniformed patrol in areas that were seeing spikes in crime, according to police.

On Sept. 1, Williamson and another officer were involved in the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Early "Rocky" Tillman in Southwest Baltimore. Police homicide investigators ruled the shooting justified. City prosecutors are still reviewing the case, according to spokespeople from both agencies.

Williamson returned to work and was patrolling in Northwest Baltimore the day he pulled over Hodge, according to police and court documents. A police charging document from that incident said Williamson and two other officers arrested Hodge and seized a loaded Sig Sauer 9 mm handgun and $3,200. It makes no mention of jewelry.

Court documents say Williamson's attorney, Michael Belsky, told investigators that the officer returned to Hodge a green box containing rings, a bracelet and other jewelry so that Hodge could submit it with his personal property during his initial processing.

Belsky did not return a phone call seeking comment yesterday.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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