Lies, cover-up alleged

Lawyer says witnesses altered stories in jail beating trial

October 02, 2006|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,sun reporter

The attorney for one of three correctional officers accused of stomping to death a detainee at Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Center promised a jury that witnesses would lie, and there would be evidence of a cover-up.

Days into what could be a three-week trial in Circuit Court, the lawyer, Andrew I. Alperstein, proclaimed in an interview: "I think we've delivered on that promise."

Indeed, many of the former correctional officers called to the witness stand by prosecutors have turned an about-face from statements given the day after Raymond K. Smoot, who had been arrested on a charge of failing to appear in court on a theft charge, was fatally beaten in his cell in May 2005.

FOR THE RECORD - A column by Gregory Kane in Saturday's editions and an article in Monday's editions misspelled the name of correctional officer Kandis Harlee, who testified against another officer in the stomping death of a detainee.
The Sun regrets the errors.

The day after Smoot died, eight officers were interviewed by the warden and commissioner of pretrial corrections. All maintained they did not know who did what to Smoot. Many were suspended on the spot, stripped of their badges and escorted from the booking center.

Five of the suspended officers met later that night at a private home, a gathering that defense attorneys say was used to frame their clients - Dameon C. Woods, Nathan D. Colbert and James L. Hatcher - who were not invited and are now being tried on second-degree murder charges. The officers who met were friends and made a pact not to implicate one another, the defense alleges.

Inconsistencies continue at trial. Five correctional officers have testified against their accused colleagues, but one reluctantly named names and argued with a defense attorney. Another officer admitted to talking with other witnesses who had previously given testimony before she took the stand. A forensics expert testified that clothing worn by the guards was not examined until three days after the beating and that by then, one article of clothing worn by Woods might have been washed.

According to transcripts entered into evidence in court, William J. Smith, commissioner of the state Division of Pretrial and Detention Services, who retired in August, could not believe the cursory statements from his officers.

"Smoot started on his feet and then ended on the floor," Smith said, trying to summarize a convoluted statement from former correctional officer Keyona Hough. "There is a big gap in your story."

Hough answered: "So much movement."

Smith: "I do not want to badger you; take your time. What kind of movement?"

Hough: "Heard a lot of feet movement."

Smith: "Did you see someone kick detainee Smoot?"

Hough: "Do not remember. Just wanted it to be over. I am tired of reliving this."

Smith got angry with Lt. Robert Hudley, the highest-ranking officer at the scene, who refused to identify officers present and said he had no idea what happened in the cell.

"I do not believe what you are saying," the commissioner said. "Your story is pitiful. ... How can you sit there as a supervisor and a human being knowing someone has died?"

Smith asked Officer Anthony Pointer if he felt excessive force had been used against Smoot. The officer answered: "Maybe it was overdone."

Defense attorneys allege their clients were blamed because they were not part of a clique of officers who hung out together regularly after work. None of the three was invited to the meeting the night after the attack. "It's a conspiracy. They had to blame somebody," said Hatcher's lawyer.

Prosecutors, with no DNA or blood evidence linking any of the three to the crime, are relying on the word of officers who have had to admit that they previously lied to their supervisors.

Jamile Boles, who hosted the gathering at his house, delivered an emotional speech after he was recalled to testify last week, saying he was telling the truth because it was the right thing to do.

Boles said he saw Woods stomp Smoot and Hatcher hit the 51-year-old several times. Yet, in his statements to the warden and Smith, Woods had said he knew nothing, according to a transcript:

Smith: "Who was in the cell delivering the blows?"

Boles: "Could not tell who was in the cell delivering blows. I cannot tell you. But if I knew, I would absolutely tell you."

Still, Boles was more forthcoming than his colleagues. He said that before the fight, Smoot "was standing up, and he was not being combative. ... Then all of a sudden all hell broke loose.

"Mr. Smoot was lying on the floor bleeding through his mouth and nose, so I put on my gloves and wrapped a sheet around his head," Boles told Smith. "I turned him from side to side because he was spitting up blood, and I did not want him to choke. ... It was unnecessary for that man to be dealt with like that."

Boles' response drew a warm handshake from the commissioner, and he was allowed to keep his job. But Boles would later be fired when Smith learned that his statements had been a lie: After the private meeting, he joined others in naming the three suspects; he testified he didn't want to implicate his friends.

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