Girl, 16, alleges police sex offense

Commissioner Hamm says incident occurred during station house interview with detective


For the second time in less than seven months, the Baltimore Police Department is investigating an alleged sex offense involving a female suspect at a district station house.

Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm provided sketchy details about the incident last night during a news conference at police headquarters. He said the incident occurred while a 40-year-old detective interviewed a 16-year-old girl at the Southeastern District station house. The girl had an outstanding warrant on a prostitution charge.

Hamm said the department disclosed the incident yesterday because investigators "have reason to believe that there is some basis to the young woman's allegations." The detective has not been charged. Hamm said that when investigators complete their investigation, they will turn it over to a grand jury.

"Let me be clear," Hamm said. "There is no room in this department for officers who break the law, and we will use every means available to us to identify those officers and to make sure that justice is served."

The detective, William D. Welch, has been suspended with pay, Hamm said. He is a 12-year veteran of the department who had been assigned to the district's detective unit, police said. Detectives in such units typically investigate a broad range of crimes, from burglaries to violent offenses.

Welch could not be reached for comment last night.

The allegations echo a recent Police Department scandal. In January, three "flex squad" officers were accused in the rape of a 22-year-old woman in the Southwestern District station house. Those officers - Jemini Jones, Steven P. Hatley and Brian J. Shaffer - are awaiting trial next month.

Jones, 28, was also indicted in May in another alleged rape of a woman whose home he was searching.

In both cases, the allegations involve the coercion of a female to have sex in exchange for her freedom from arrest.

The allegations in the Southeastern District surfaced Sunday.

The 16-year-old girl, whom police did not identify, had been arrested on an illegal-hacking charge by a Baltimore patrol officer. The officer ran a warrant check on the girl, and discovered that she was wanted in Baltimore County on a prostitution charge, police said.

She was arrested about 10 a.m. and taken to the Southeastern District station house, in the 5700 block of Eastern Ave., where she was interviewed by a male detective. About 1 p.m., the girl was picked up by the Baltimore County Sheriff's Office for transport to a county juvenile facility, police said.

The girl complained about an incident involving sexual contact with a detective, police said. Soon after, investigators from Internal Affairs and the department's sex-offense unit began an inquiry, police said.

Hamm declined to disclose additional details of the incident, except to say that investigators were "looking at the possibility that `best practices' weren't followed."

Interviews in district station houses are not routinely videotaped. And male police officers who deal with female suspects often try to have female officers assist them. There is no written policy, but it is established practice, according to police.

It appears that, in this case, such a practice was not followed, according to a department source.

The detective's partner was working in the station house, but he was not involved in the interview of the girl, according to the source, who is close to the investigation, but spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The source said police had gathered unspecified forensic evidence in connection with the incident.

Paul M. Blair Jr., president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police union, said the detective has contacted the union's lawyers for representation during his departmental suspension hearing scheduled for today. He criticized the department announcing the allegations without having filed formal charges against the detective.

"They sure went to the press fast enough, for not being charged," Blair said. "Somehow or another, the department decided to release everything."

Blair said the union believes the officer is presumed innocent.

"False accusations are made every day, and hopefully, when the investigation wraps up, we will find that these are accusations and not factual," Blair said. "I hope for the sake of the officer and for the department that these turn out to be unsubstantiated allegations."

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