City flex squad probe is dragging

One charge results from four-month investigation

May 04, 2006|By JULIE BYKOWICZ | JULIE BYKOWICZ,SUN REPORTER

The police paperwork told a shocking tale: a police squad accused of stashing drugs in desk drawers and lockers at a station house, making false arrests, stealing property and sexually assaulting two women.

It was four months ago that the Baltimore Police Department began investigating officers in the Southwestern District "flex squad."

As of yesterday, only one of the many allegations - a rape in December at the district station - had materialized into a criminal charge.

The internal affairs unit is continuing to investigate all allegations involving the squad, said Matt Jablow, a police spokesman, with an eye toward possible criminal wrongdoing and departmental infractions.

The flex squad was replaced in January, and all six of its officers have been suspended.

Police, prosecutors and defense attorneys gave different explanations yesterday as to why it appears the criminal investigation into the drug, theft and false arrest allegations has stalled. The allegations were detailed in a search warrant, which was obtained in January by The Sun.

Jablow said it was "normal" for a complex investigation to take more than four months, and that the rape charges had slowed it further because the indicted officers cannot be compelled to talk to internal affairs until after the trial.

City Public Defender Elizabeth L. Julian said internal affairs seemed to be mired in a larger-than-usual number of police misconduct accusations. But she said another possibility was that "maybe they're trying to be thorough this time and do it right."

Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office, said prosecutors are doubtful that officers will ever be charged, because internal affairs has had little contact with them and because it would be difficult to prove the alleged misconduct rose to the level of a crime in addition to a possible violation of departmental policy.

Defense attorneys for some former flex squad officers said there have been no criminal charges regarding drugs, thefts and false arrests because those allegations are unfounded.

"I don't think there's any truth to it," said Marc L. Zayon, who represents Brian J. Shaffer, one of the officers named in police documents as has having drugs in his possession.

Warren A. Brown, who represents Jemini Jones, a former flex officer named in police documents as possibly having planted evidence and made false arrests, said he has "heard zero" about those accusations.

Margaret Mead, a defense attorney who has kept up with the investigation because she represents people arrested in Southwest neighborhoods, said: "There's the sense that the department wants this whole problem in Southwest to just go away, and that the best way to do that is to ignore it."

The rape case also has been problematic because the Police Department has not turned over critical investigative materials, said Burns and defense attorneys for the three officers facing trial.

Jones, Shaffer and Steven P. Hatley are scheduled for trial May 31 on charges of rape, conspiracy to rape, sexual offense, assault and violation of official duties. Jones is accused of forcing sex on a woman who had been brought in handcuffs to the station house, and the other two are accused of doing nothing to intervene.

In a May 1 letter to defense attorneys, Assistant State's Attorney JoAnne Stanton, chief of the sex offense division, wrote that detectives have assured her that she will soon receive forensic evidence, which she said she would then give to defense attorneys.

Zayon and Michael J. Belsky, Hatley's attorney, filed motions last week to dismiss charges against their clients, saying the prosecutor had not given them any forensic evidence.

Jablow said the department has been "cooperating fully with prosecutors."

Four months ago, police documents seemed to warn of a wave of criminal charges.

Detective Sgt. Scott Danielczyk and Detective John P. Jendrek wrote an application to search the Southwestern District station house after the first rape allegation came to light. That application included an accusation that Jones and fellow flex squad Officer Vicki Mengel had been planting "controlled dangerous substances on citizens in an effort to knowingly make false arrests."

The application also stated that two officers "have been implicated in the theft of cellular phones belonging to arrestees."

Among the items seized during the search: 11 bags of cocaine in an officer's duffel bag, a bag with a gel capsule and a white pill from another officer's desk drawer and two plastic baggies with what appeared to be marijuana in the pocket of the police jacket of a third officer.

Tacked on a wall of the flex squad's office wall was an orange-topped vial with powder residue suspected to be heroin.

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