Officer conduct scuttles cases

Prosecutions dropped as suspension surfaces

June 06, 2008|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore prosecutors have dropped dozens of criminal cases after a defense attorney discovered that the officer who helped arrest his client had once been suspended for trying to handle a domestic violence call in which he was the suspect.

Detective Charles Hagee pleaded guilty in August 2006 to two administrative charges of conduct unbecoming a police officer. In October 2004, court documents allege, he responded to a woman's 911 call, even though he knew he was the subject of her complaint, and then attempted to misdirect other officers into chasing a fake suspect.

"Misconduct in office" encompasses a wide range of infractions. But the chief of the state's attorney's police misconduct division knew the allegations involved lying and deceit, yet did not pursue the matter after police told him "integrity charges" against Hagee had been dismissed, according to court records and a spokeswoman for prosecutors.

In a 2006 court deposition in this case, Thomas A. Krehely, the division chief, testified that he does not routinely review police misconduct files after he decides not to press criminal charges, mainly to avoid being subpoenaed by defense attorneys.

As a result, Krehely did not learn that Hagee's plea involved an admission that he misled 911 operators until more than a year after the paperwork was signed. Defense attorneys could have used that information to undermine the detective's credibility.

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy now says Hagee cannot be relied upon to tell the truth on the witness stand and on May 5 - nearly four years after the incident - she put him on a list of witnesses prosecutors may not use at trial, said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for Jessamy.

Burns said Krehely did not become aware of the substance of what Hagee pleaded guilty to until Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock ordered some of the contents of Hagee's personnel file disclosed to city public defender Gregory Fischer in September.

Assistant Public Defender Maureen Rowland accused prosecutors of purposely remaining in the dark about the outcome of police internal investigations.

"The state's attorney's office exhibited willful ignorance - because they didn't want to know," Rowland said in an interview. "They had an ethical responsibility as lawyers to find out what the situation really was, and then disclose that information to defense lawyers."

Fischer subpoenaed Hagee's personnel file in the case of Derrick Burgess, who was being prosecuted for gun offenses.

Hagee participated in a raid Jan. 5, 2007, at a home in the 1200 block of E. Federal St. There, according to charging documents, Hagee advised Burgess, 37, of his right to remain silent and then asked him whether there were any drugs or guns in the house. Burgess, according to charging documents, told Hagee that he had two guns in his bedroom closet.

Burgess denies making the statement.

"Whether this statement was actually made, the contents of the purported statement, and the circumstances surrounding the alleged statement will all be pivotal issues at trial," Fischer wrote in an argument to Judge Murdock. "The credibility of Detective Hagee on these issues and other issues with be critical in the jury's determination."

Murdock agreed and released parts of the Hagee's personnel file after declaring them "probative of the character of untruthfulness."

Hagee's encounter with the woman - the officer described her as a confidential informant and ex-girlfriend; she described him as her boyfriend - occurred Oct. 3, 2004, at a downtown apartment about 3:30 a.m.

Court records say the woman told Hagee over the phone that she did not want to see him, but he ignored her, driving in a police car to her apartment drunk and in uniform from his part-time job at a parking garage, according to the internal police charging documents. The woman told police that Hagee repeatedly banged on her door, ordered her to open it and threatened to hurt her.

"When the communications division of the Department dispatched the call, Detective Hagee responded, indicating that he was handling the call for service," Maria E. Korman, an attorney for the Police Department, wrote in court filings. The victim "called 911 again and indicated that she heard Detective Hagee speaking on the radio indicating that he was handling the call but that he was the one she was calling about."

Hagee never gained access to the apartment. He also denied a romantic relationship with the woman, Korman wrote. After internal affairs investigators were dispatched to the scene, police ordered Hagee to take a Breathalyzer test, which he failed. His blood-alcohol level was 0.12 - over the 0.08 legal limit.

But police did not follow the legal procedures required to admit the test results in court and did not interview anyone who had seen him at the wheel of the car, according to court records. He was never ticketed or charged. The responding police officer labeled the incident an "unfounded family disturbance."

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