Police unit is disbanded

Misconduct allegations made against `Special Enforcement' officers

September 13, 2006|By Julie Bykowicz and Gus G. Sentementes | Julie Bykowicz and Gus G. Sentementes,Sun reporters

For the second time this year, the Baltimore Police Department has disbanded a specialized unit and launched an internal investigation into its officers' activities, forcing prosecutors to consider dismissing dozens of criminal cases connected to the officers, authorities said.

A unit of the department's "Special Enforcement Teams" that worked mostly in the Southeastern District was taken off the streets and its officers were reassigned a month ago, police said. Spokesman Matt Jablow said the investigation of the unit involves "allegations of misconduct," which he declined to specify.

Sources close to the investigation said the officers have been accused of lying in charging documents, most of which involve drug arrests that result from car stops.

At the end of December and into January, the department launched an internal review of a Southwestern District "flex squad" prompted by a report from a woman who said she was raped by officers. That investigation also involved allegations that officers stole and planted evidence, and that probe remains open, Jablow said.

Jablow would not disclose the names of the Southeastern unit's officers. He said the unit, which consisted of a sergeant and six officers, was not replaced by other officers after it was disbanded. But other enforcement units are still working throughout the city.

Court documents in the many dozens of arrests made by the unit under investigation show it was led by Sgt. William Harris. Another name that appears frequently is Officer Shakil Moss.

None of the Southeastern officers has been charged with a crime.

Even as the internal investigation proceeds, prosecutors have begun dropping cases in which the officers are the only witnesses, court documents show.

Prosecutors are tabulating how many cases will be lost because of the investigation, but a review of court records shows it could be well over 100 -- mostly drug cases. Cases with evidence and witnesses apart from the officers in question might be able to proceed.

Prosecutors went through a similar evaluation process in January, when allegations of misconduct among officers on the Southwestern District flex squad surfaced. More than 140 cases have been dropped as a result of that internal affairs investigation.

The Southwestern flex squad allegations also prompted Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm to enact stricter controls and monitoring of the department's specialized units.

A review of court records shows that some violent cases could be affected by the internal investigations of the Southeastern SET unit, the Southwestern flex squad and other officers accused of misconduct.

Travis Davon Terry is charged with first-degree murder and is scheduled for trial Oct. 12. Two of the 10 officers listed as witnesses are under investigation. One is Detective William D. Welch of the Southeastern District, who is accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in the district station in July. Another is Moss of the Special Enforcement Team.

The department has had Special Enforcement Teams -- one on the city's east side and one on the west side -- since July of last year. Each team, which is further broken into smaller "units" led by sergeants, is overseen by a commander who reports to the department's chief of patrol, Col. Deborah Owens. There are about 60 SET officers.

SET units are "deployed in a rapid manner to respond to emerging violent crime problems throughout Baltimore," according to the department's 2005 annual report. The report said SET officers made more than 7,000 arrests, mostly in drug and nuisance cases, seized 266 guns and reported 141 handgun violations.

Like flex squad officers, members of the SET units typically work in uniform or in plainclothes, and patrol in marked or unmarked vehicles.

But there is a key difference in terms of accountability. The Special Enforcement Teams are directly overseen by the chief of patrol's office, while the flex squads are managed by each of the nine districts and their commanders.

One of the former Southwestern flex officers, Jemini Jones, faces two rape charges. In each case, according to court documents, he is accused of having sex with a woman in exchange for her freedom. Two other flex officers also are charged with rape because they are accused of doing nothing to stop one of the incidents, which allegedly occurred inside a police station house.

Those officers have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled for trial in December.

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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