Officer accused of taking bribes

Police say he accepted money from suspect to skip court date

April 02, 2006|By BRADLEY OLSON | BRADLEY OLSON,SUN REPORTER

A Baltimore City police officer was arrested on charges that he took bribes from a suspect in return for failing to appear at the man's criminal trial, according to court records.

Police charged Officer Walter Jackson-Hill, 35, with theft, bribery, extortion, obstruction of justice and other counts Friday after a six-month internal investigation revealed that he allegedly took a total of $1,150 from a man he had arrested. Jackson-Hill also agreed to try to get the suspect sentenced to probation rather than prison, according to the records.

Sources familiar with the case said the man, who was unnamed in the documents, had been arrested for a felony drug offense.

City police spokesman Matt Jablow said Jackson-Hill will likely be suspended without pay "very shortly."

Jackson-Hill, a York, Pa., resident who has been a city police officer since 2000, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm "has made the integrity of the department one of his highest priorities, and we will continue to be extremely proactive in identifying officers who either violate the general orders or in rare cases ... break the law," Jablow said. "It will not be tolerated."

This case comes as the Police Department has been embarrassed by several high-profile corruption trials against its officers.

Three Southwestern District officers - part of a "flex squad" that has since been disbanded - will be tried on rape charges in May, and police documents say the squad stole from suspects they had arrested and planted drugs on people.

In a federal trial, two detectives have been accused of robbing drug addicts and pressuring dealers to split their profits with them.

Last month, a Baltimore grand jury questioned the arrest practices of the Police Department, particularly for narcotics cases, and called for police to cut in half the number of arrests that fail to result in criminal charges, saying such arrests erode public confidence in the Police Department.

Because Jackson-Hill's case revolves partly around allegations of his purposeful failure to appear at a trial, the case is also likely to heighten tension between the Police Department and the Baltimore state's attorney's office. Last year, about 3,200 officers failed to appear for court dates in District Court, state's attorney spokeswoman Margaret Burns said yesterday.

"This is an unusually high failure to appear rate," she said. "The state's attorney's office has been working with the Baltimore Police Department to address that because when an officer fails to appear, we lose our case."

Jablow disputed the figure, and said that officers sometimes have legitimate reasons for not appearing, but are still counted in the tally.

Lt. Paul Blair Jr., the city police union president, said criticism of Baltimore police officers for failing to appear in court is unfair, noting that officers are sometimes summoned during vacations or not given proper notice. Many officers receive 50 to 75 summons in a year, he said.

Blair said of Jackson-Hill that it would be "inappropriate to comment on a case I'm not familiar with," but that "everyone is presumed innocent until they have their day in court."

According to the charging documents, the matter came to the attention of police in October, when the man Jackson-Hill had arrested was interviewed for an "ongoing investigation involving the Southwestern District Flex Unit." The man told police that Jackson-Hill detained him Sept. 11, 2005, and told the man he would "let him go" for $400.

Jackson-Hill arranged for the man's girlfriend to give him $400 in Druid Hill Park and in exchange the officer said that "when the arrest came to trial in district court, he would fail to appear" and the charges would be dropped, according to the documents.

In December, Jackson-Hill did not appear at the man's trial in District Court. He was on medical leave, the documents said. Jackson-Hill failed to appear for a second court date in February because "he reported to be on medical leave," and the trial was rescheduled for tomorrow.

On Friday, while being recorded and videotaped at a gasoline station at Cold Spring Lane and Falls Road, the man gave Jackson-Hill $750 in cash with recorded serial numbers that had been provided to him by police investigators.

The man asked Jackson-Hill what he would get for the money, and Jackson-Hill said, according to the documents, that the case would result in probation.

Police arrested Jackson-Hill, who worked on the department's west-side "special enforcement team" - officers who focus on traffic enforcement, serving warrants and "quality of life" crimes, such as loitering, trespassing and disorderly conduct - about 8 p.m. Friday.

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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