Jessamy, Dixon spar at meeting on crime

Exchange about oft-arrested victim not unlike O'Malley's battles with prosecutor

October 12, 2006|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporter

If yesterday's monthly meeting of Baltimore crime-fighting leaders is any indication, State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy is forging the same contentious relationship with the City Council president that she has with the mayor.

Jessamy and Council President Sheila Dixon - both considered contenders for City Hall's top job in 2007 - squared off in a biting exchange over why a man with a lengthy criminal record was free to walk the streets.

The 24-year-old, found beaten to death last weekend near Dixon's West Baltimore home, had been arrested 18 times for drug offenses and was on probation three times for different convictions.

"Obviously the police are doing their job," Dixon said in a pointed reference to Jessamy, who sat three seats away at the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting.

Jessamy shot back that Dixon was trying to "make a public point" by bringing up the issue at the well-attended meeting instead of contacting her office directly.

"I don't want anybody to tell me why I brought it here," Dixon said.

Jessamy later insisted, through her spokeswoman, that the two have a good relationship. Dixon's spokesman declined to comment on the relationship.

The two would have to work together if Mayor Martin O'Malley were elected governor next month, which would automatically elevate Dixon to mayor for a year. Dixon almost certainly would then run for mayor, and Jessamy is frequently mentioned as a potential candidate. Both would be seeking to become Baltimore's first elected female mayor.

Jessamy, the city's top prosecutor for 11 years and unopposed as state's attorney in next month's election, has butted heads with O'Malley almost since he took office in late 1999.

A City Council budget hearing in March exposed a rift between Jessamy and some council members, who said her office's conviction rate was unacceptable and called for her to step down.

Jessamy's presentation at the hearing was cut short when council members James B. Kraft and Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake, staunch advocates of O'Malley, stormed out. Jessamy said she felt ambushed. Dixon said at the time that she was surprised by the turn of events at the hearing.

Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meetings, held monthly at Courthouse East on Calvert Street, are usually professional and predictable. Members include officials from the Baltimore Police Department, parole and probation, and city and federal prosecutors' offices. Circuit Judge John M. Glynn serves as chairman.

Yesterday's meeting began as they usually do, with reports from agency heads. After police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm spoke, Glynn asked if anyone had a question.

Dixon did.

She said she had learned that Leonard Nathaniel Garrett, whose body was found on a street near Leakin Park and Dixon's home, had amassed a lengthy criminal record.

She wondered why he wasn't in prison and, though she did not mention Jessamy or prosecutors, she said police seemed to be doing their part.

Jessamy jumped in to respond, saying there are many reasons why arrests don't automatically turn into convictions and lengthy prison sentences.

A back-and-forth ensued, prompting Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway, across the table, to cry out, "Ladies, ladies!" Glynn eventually cut off the argument by saying the council would research Dixon's concern and report back.

After the meeting, Ruffin Brown, Dixon's executive director, who also attended the meeting, said Dixon's "intent was not to direct the question specifically at the state's attorney, but to the entire body. That's how she presented it."

Margaret T. Burns, Jessamy's spokeswoman, said Jessamy was upset because Dixon was one of many people recently to mention a homicide victim's criminal record.

"That shouldn't be the first thing you say about someone who has been murdered," said Burns.

Jessamy did not mention that concern at the council meeting, but Burns, who also attended, said she would have if Glynn had not ended the argument.

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