City officer suspended in inquiry

Radio chatter contradicts his police report on drug arrests

March 10, 2009|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,melissa.harris@baltsun.com

A Baltimore police officer accused of lying in charging documents to justify a drug arrest has been suspended pending the outcome of an internal investigation that has spread to the second in command of the city's elite violence-reduction division.

Police suspended Officer Michael W. Woodlon of the Violent Crimes Impact Division on Friday, after The Baltimore Sun supplied the department with a transcript of his radio communications with a civilian running a police surveillance camera. The civilian, Irma Reed, is also under investigation.

A tape of the communications between Woodlon and Reed appears to contradict the charging documents that Woodlon filed against defendants Michael Davis, Hattie Wade and Troy Thomas, who were accused of being the seller, buyer and lookout, respectively, in a March 11, 2008, drug case.

A prosecutor noted the apparent discrepancies and dropped drug distribution charges against Davis on Jan. 22, but not before Wade had pleaded guilty in District Court to cocaine possession. She is now on probation.

The city's chief drug prosecutor notified Maj. John Hess, a commander in the Violent Crimes Impact Division, that Woodlon might not have seen what he described in charging documents. Police are investigating Hess' handling of the matter.

"Everyone who touched this case is being reviewed by internal investigations," said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. "This is getting the attention of the department at its highest levels."

In charging documents, Woodlon wrote that while working in a covert location, he watched Davis, 20, and Wade, 40, spend 10 seconds inside a store at North Monroe Street and Walbrook Avenue and emerge without bags and with Wade's right hand clenched.

Woodlon wrote that he followed Wade to West North Avenue and North Payson Street, where she tried to put cocaine in her mouth but dropped it as he moved to make an arrest.

"At no time did I lose sight of defendant Wade," Woodlon wrote.

But the recording suggests that Woodlon saw little and that there was another buyer, a white woman, whom he did not arrest.

On the tape, Woodlon, who had been on the force for three years, reported that he was "clearing the area" so he wouldn't "scare off" the buyers and the seller, who were being monitored by Reed on a police surveillance camera. Reed had retired as a police officer in 2005 and returned as a camera operator about three months before the arrest.

"You let me know when they separate and I'll go stop them," Woodlon told Reed.

Seconds later, Reed told Woodlon that she was "almost sure" that a drug deal had occurred inside the store.

"What's their direction of travel?" Woodlon asked.

Reed then described the movements of the two buyers - a white woman in a purple jacket and black woman in a black jacket.

"Are they still walking up [North Avenue]?" Woodlon asked a few seconds later.

"I'm at Pulaski and Walbrook," he said. "When they walk past Payson toward Pulaski, let me know. I'm going to get out and walk up on them."

The intersections are three blocks apart and around a corner.

Seconds after Reed told Woodlon that the women were crossing Payson Street, he replied: "I see them. I'm walking right toward them." Reed said, "All right. The black woman went up to her mouth."

The charging documents do not mention Reed or the role that she and the surveillance system played in the arrests.

Efforts to reach Woodlon and Reed were unsuccessful.

"He didn't see jack," Davis' defense attorney, Louis Curran, said in an interview. "Not only did he not seek jack, he writes it up under oath like he did."

The Police Department destroys recordings of radio communications after 90 days if officers, prosecutors or defense attorneys do not request them. Curran said he asked for the recording because he did not believe that Wade dropped the cocaine.

Curran said he gave a copy of the tape to prosecutor Rebecca Cox, who notified him that the second voice on it was Reed's. But by that time, police had destroyed the video from the surveillance camera, Curran said. Such videos are preserved for 28 days unless a request is made to save them, Guglielmi said.

The police union president, Robert F. Cherry Jr., said the tape is just one part of the story. "I just want to caution everyone to remember that just because something is on a ... tape, it's not the whole case," Cherry said. "I've never seen one case built strictly and solely on one tape."

Cherry said that if prosecutors had proof that Woodlon lied, Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy would have put him on her list of officers barred from testifying.

Cox interviewed Woodlon about the discrepancies before a trial date and then dropped the charges. According to sources familiar with the interview, Woodlon said that Reed did not want to testify in court, which is why he omitted her role in his report.

Jessamy spokesman Joseph Sviatko said that Doug Ludwig, the office's new police misconduct chief, will investigate the matter. Sviatko said Jessamy would decide whether to file criminal charges against Woodlon and whether he should be added to prosecutors' list of officers barred from testifying in court.

Curran sent an e-mail to defense attorneys about the case. Woodlon could be called as a witness in more than 50 others pending in Baltimore, according to online court records.

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