Officer cleared of rape charges

Alleged victim said he demanded sex to let her avoid jail for marijuana

January 24, 2007|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporter

Officer Jemini Jones was acquitted yesterday of all charges in a rape case that brought to light broader allegations of misconduct in a specialized unit of the Baltimore Police Department.

Jones, 29, sat expressionless at the defense table as the jury foreman announced the not-guilty verdicts, reached after about one full day of deliberations. In the hallway outside, the 23-year-old who claimed Jones coerced her to have sex with him at a police station house to avoid being jailed burst into tears.

Later, outside the courthouse, the woman and her younger girlfriend became enraged, shouting at reporters and passers-by. "Police think they can get away with everything," yelled Toni Taylor, the girlfriend. "They just proved they can get away with everything."

Two hours before returning the verdicts, jurors wrote a note asking whether they had to provide written justification for what they decided. Circuit Judge Wanda K. Heard told them they did not.

Jurors leaving the courthouse declined to be interviewed; the judge ordered them not to speak publicly. A gag order also remains in place for all attorneys connected to the case.

Although the two-week trial is over, other court cases and a police internal investigation related to Jones' former unit, called the "flex squad," remain in the queue. Yesterday's acquittal means that prosecutors will have to decide whether rape charges filed against two other flex officers are still viable.

The officers, Steven Hatley and Brian Shaffer, are accused of helping Jones arrange the encounter with the woman on Dec. 27, 2005.

Jones also is charged in a second, unrelated rape case involving an allegation that he had sex with a woman, under threat of arrest, during an October 2005 search of her boyfriend's apartment. That allegation was reported to police and prosecutors after the December 2005 one.

The Sun is not naming either woman because they have made allegations of sex crimes.

Today, a trial date in the second Jones rape case is expected to be set, and, if prosecutors proceed with charges against Hatley and Shaffer, those trial dates will be set soon. Jones, Hatley and Shaffer are suspended without pay.

In addition, the former Southwestern District flex squad in which those three officers worked remains under police internal investigation for misconduct that emerged as the rape claim was being investigated.

Police documents in the rape cases show that investigators believe some flex officers might have been keeping drugs in their desks and lockers, planting evidence on suspects and stealing cell phones from people they arrested.

That five-member flex squad, led by Sgt. Robert Smith, was disbanded after the December 2005 rape allegation was reported. Flex officers are assigned to each police district and work mostly undercover to investigate drug operations and crime hot spots.

Matt Jablow, a police spokesman, said yesterday that the internal investigation into the former Southwestern flex squad will "resume in earnest" after all of the pending criminal matters have been resolved. He said prosecutors had asked investigators not to interview officers before their court proceedings.

Jones' trial was marked by atypical moments when it was difficult to tell which side was which.

Four detectives testified as prosecution witnesses, but some admitted on the stand that they had repeatedly called the alleged victim a liar.

Most officers unconnected to the case who dropped by the trial said they supported Jones. After the verdict was announced, an investigator for prosecutors, who provides security for State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, gave Jones a high-five and clapped him on the back.

Closing arguments Monday highlighted such awkward relationships.

Defense attorney Janice L. Bledsoe pointed to perceived holes in the investigation, asking why detectives hadn't collected more evidence, interviewed more witnesses or even looked inside Jones' bedroom while searching his house.

In her rebuttal closing argument, Assistant State's Attorney JoAnne Stanton said to jurors, "Would I have liked a better investigated case? Absolutely."

She said the detectives, who sat in the courtroom listening to her closing, were "investigating one of their own" and had the "mind-set that this woman is lying."

"No one wants to investigate one of their own," Stanton said.

Jablow, the police spokesman, said yesterday that Stanton was "fully involved in every aspect of this investigation from within the first hour that the allegation was raised."

"The case was thoroughly, professionally and objectively investigated by the state's attorney's office in partnership with the Baltimore Police Department," Jablow said. "And it is simply wrong and irresponsible for anyone to say or suggest otherwise."

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