Rape charges dropped

Not-guilty verdict for police officer ends two related cases

January 27, 2007|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporter

Prosecutors dropped all charges yesterday against two Baltimore police officers accused of doing nothing to stop another officer from having sex with a female suspect at a police station.

Officers Steven Hatley and Brian Shaffer had been charged with rape and misconduct in office, among other counts, until a deputy state's attorney told a judge at a brief court hearing yesterday that it was "in the best interest of justice" to end the criminal cases against them.

As they left the city Circuit Courthouse, holding hands with their wives, Hatley, 28, and Shaffer, 29, said they wanted to remain police officers.

"The system worked in this case," Shaffer said. "It was a long process, and I wish it could have been shorter, but it worked."

The dismissals came three days after a city jury reached not-guilty verdicts in the case of Officer Jemini Jones, 29, the first of the three officers to stand trial.

A 23-year-old woman accused Jones of coercing her to have sex on Dec. 27, 2005, to avoid being sent to jail on drug charges. Prosecutors accused Hatley and Shaffer of helping to arrange Jones' encounter with the woman, whom the three had arrested that day.

The three officers were part of the Southwestern District "flex squad," a specialized unit that investigated drug dealers and crime hot spots. The rape allegation brought to light broader accusations of wrongdoing in the squad that are being investigated by the Police Department.

Prosecutors did want to comment beyond a prepared statement from a spokeswoman that said the officers were indicted "following an independent grand jury investigation."

From the beginning of the rape investigation, Hatley and Shaffer have wanted to tell their story, the two officers said. The day after the alleged rape, the two said, they waived the right to remain silent and gave statements to sex crimes and internal affairs investigators.

Their attorneys said they asked that Hatley and Shaffer testify before a grand jury, but prosecutors, who control what evidence is presented in those court proceedings, declined. Then, after they were indicted early last January, Shaffer and Hatley offered to talk with investigators and prosecutors, their attorneys said, but those offers also were declined.

A gag order put in place soon after the indictments prevented the officers and their attorneys from talking publicly. The order ended yesterday when charges were dropped, though the officers would not discuss Jones because of a separate pending rape charge against him.

Yesterday, for the first time, they gave an hourlong interview to a Sun reporter at their attorneys' office.

"Until right now, here, I have never talked to anybody," Hatley said. "I just had to read in the press about how we `stood by and watched a rape.' We weren't even in the building."

Hatley and Shaffer said they had no idea what, if anything, happened inside the station on Dec. 27, 2005. They said they heard no talk of sex and did not witness anything inappropriate between Jones and the woman.

Hatley and Shaffer passed lie-detector tests reinforcing that point, said Paul M. Blair Jr., the police union president.

The two - and their lawyers and Blair - said they remain puzzled why they were charged in the first place.

"In my 11 years representing police officers, I have never seen a case investigated like this and prosecuted with such little evidence," said Michael J. Belsky, Hatley's lawyer.

Blair said he was convinced the officers were prosecuted "because it made headlines during a political campaign."

At the time of the indictments last January, Mayor Martin O'Malley was running for governor. O'Malley, known for his advocacy of the Police Department, has had a contentious relationship with Baltimore City State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

"It's very discouraging for police officers to know that they can go through something like this," Blair said.

Although Hatley and Shaffer were charged with rape, the alleged victim testified at Jones' trial that Jones was the only person who had sex with her.

In a statement to police given the day after the alleged rape, the woman did not say that Hatley and Shaffer had anything to do with her encounter with Jones.

The woman gave another statement later that day, in the presence of Assistant State's Attorney JoAnne Stanton, the division chief of the prosecutors' sex crimes unit.

A transcript of that statement shows that the person who suggested Hatley's and Shaffer's involvement was Stanton. She asked the woman, "So all three of them were in the office and talking about sex?" The woman replied, "Yeah."

The woman then told Stanton that Hatley decided not to have sex with the woman's younger girlfriend, who also was under arrest at the station, because she looked too young.

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