Corruption trial opens

2 city police officers accused in robbery, extortion of drug suspects

March 15, 2006|By MATTHEW DOLAN | MATTHEW DOLAN,SUN REPORTER

Holding up badges and 9 mm Glock semiautomatic pistols, a federal prosecutor told jurors yesterday that two Baltimore police officers being tried on corruption charges used their positions "as a vehicle to rob, to rob people on the streets of drugs."

"They preyed upon the very people they were sworn to protect," Assistant U.S. Attorney A. David Copperthite said in his opening statement.

He called the actions by Officers Antonio L. Murray and William A. King a product of "insatiable greed."

Defense attorneys countered in their opening statements that their clients did not commit crimes, and if they bent departmental rules, the partners did so to protect their informants on the street and to focus their attention on large-scale drug dealers.

"It's not tea and crumpets," Ed Smith Jr., King's attorney, said of the detectives' work patrolling public housing communities on the city's west side. "It's hard business."

The defense lawyers said that Murray, 35, and King, 36, would take the witness stand and testify in their own defense. In a 33-count indictment, the officers are accused of conspiring to rob and extort cocaine, heroin and marijuana - as well as drug-related proceeds - from suspects they met on city streets. A third defendant, Antonio Mosby, was charged with serving as their lookout and informant in the drug world.

Mosby has pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors and is expected to testify against King and Murray. Other suspects-turned-victims also are expected to take the stand against the officers who once called them informants.

The indictment states that King and Murray, who were arrested in May last year, started their illegal activities as far back as the summer of 2004.

Copperthite said that the federal investigation started with a tip from an informant who accused King of shaking down drug addicts.

Using wiretaps on their cellular phones and microphones and global-positioning trackers planted in their department-issued Chevrolet Lumina, federal undercover agents tracked the pair as they were seemingly on the job when they allegedly rounded up suspects and held them in their car, according to the indictment. Then they used the threat of force, arrest and prosecution as their enforcement tools, the indictment says.

Two are detained

As late as April 15 last year, King and Murray detained a man and a woman for drug dealing and robbed them of their drugs and money without arresting them, according to the indictment.

Federal prosecutors said the three defendants split the proceeds from the robberies and sold the drugs they seized for mutual profit.

All of these activities took place in West Baltimore, which one police witness called "an extraordinarily blighted section of the city dominated by open-air drug dealing."

The west side, according to Police Department Col. Frederick H. Bealefeld, was responsible for about 25 percent to 30 percent of all of the city's homicides and shootings.

Prosecutors, dismissing the explanation from defense lawyers, told jurors that the case was not about good police officers who simply cut corners as a way of blending into the street drug scene.

First witness

To show that King and Murray allegedly violated department rules, prosecutors called Bealefeld as their first witness. The supervisor of detectives testified that the department's "general orders" formed the bedrock for officers' conduct and could not be compromised.

Calling on 25 years of experience, Bealefeld said there would be few reasons if any that a police officer could detain someone, seize drugs and money and then not immediately report the contraband to the department as evidence.

In the indictment, King, Murray and Mosby have been charged with conspiracy, illegal drug dealing and illegal gun possession.

King is charged with two additional counts of distributing cocaine and marijuana.

If convicted on the most serious charge of conspiracy to possess a firearm in the commission of a violent crime, each man could receive a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore is expected to last about three weeks. Judge J. Frederick Motz is presiding.

Copperthite said that the prosecution of King and Murray was limited to those officers and did not involve a wide investigation into the entire department.

But Baltimore police have recently been beset by another drug-related scandal when officers in the department's Southwestern District were accused of keeping drugs stashed in their desks.

Police commanders disbanded the so-called "flex" squad, suspended the officers and replaced each of its seven members.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

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