City police suspend deputy major linked to murder suspect

March 17, 2009|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,justin.fenton@baltsun.com

The deputy major of the Baltimore Police Department's Eastern District has been suspended pending an internal investigation into allegations that he failed to disclose a series of text messages he exchanged with a man sought on a domestic violence warrant, days before authorities say he killed his wife.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed that Dan A. Lioi was suspended indefinitely Saturday because of "integrity issues." He would not provide details.

Sources with knowledge of the situation say Lioi exchanged text messages with 33-year-old Cleaven Lawrence Williams Jr. and might not have vigorously attempted to serve the warrant for his arrest. Williams is accused of killing his wife, Veronica Williams, 28, on Nov. 17 outside the Eastern District Court on North Avenue and is awaiting trial on charges of first-degree murder. He has pleaded not criminally responsible, the equivalent of an insanity plea.

Lioi could not be reached for comment. Viewed by many as a by-the-book up-and-comer in the department, he headed a gun task force established by Mayor Sheila Dixon before becoming deputy commander in the Eastern District, one of the city's most violent.

As president of the Greater Greenmount Community Association, Cleaven Williams was known by police leaders and patrol officers as "C.J." and helped to organize a community anti-violence walk last fall. But he also had a history of domestic violence involving his wife, the mother of his three children, dating to when they lived in Frederick.

A few weeks before Veronica Williams' death, she filed assault charges against her husband, accusing him of locking her out of the house and taking her car. The two had gotten into a fight when she told him she was leaving, and he had cut off all her hair.

Police did not follow normal procedures in attempting to serve the warrant on Cleaven Williams. Instead of sending it to a special domestic violence unit, Eastern District officers, who knew him, tried to serve it themselves.

Cleaven Williams learned about the warrant. According to an e-mail sent to Lioi by Maj. Melvin Russell and provided to The Baltimore Sun, Williams contacted police and indicated he wanted to surrender. After he failed to show, patrol officers began going to his house, passing the warrant from shift to shift.

Cleaven Williams contacted police Nov. 14 and said he would come in. But when he arrived at the Eastern District, the warrant could not be found despite "an extensive search," Russell wrote in an e-mail to Lioi. A source said Lioi was among those who searched unsuccessfully for the warrant.

Officials with knowledge of the text message investigation said there is no indication that Lioi discarded or hindered attempts to locate the warrant.

Williams also had a second warrant pending, in connection with a 2003 shooting. It is not clear whether police knew of the prior warrant, but Russell said in the e-mail that because the domestic violence warrant was for common assault and neither the husband nor wife appeared to be staying at the family home, an agreement was made that Williams would turn himself in Nov. 18.

"We felt confident that we would have served the warrant on Mr. Williamson [sic] without incident," Russell wrote. "We were not aware of any past violence in Mr. Williamson's [sic] background. If any one of these things were know [sic] to us other courses were [sic] have been taken by us."

The stabbing would occur a day before that surrender date, on a sidewalk one block from the District Court where, shortly before she was attacked, Veronica Williams received a protective order against her husband from Baltimore District Judge Jeannie J. Hong.

Witnesses saw a man dart across traffic and tackle her. Police said Cleaven Williams was hit with a Taser and shot twice by off-duty police Officer Joshua Laycock as Williams repeatedly slashed at his wife. Veronica Williams died three days later at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

A police source with knowledge of the matter said the texts were discovered by homicide investigators who subpoenaed phone records as part of the murder investigation. Officials have copies of the text messages, which show a continuing dialogue, though some of the comments lack context. But officials are concerned about the messages and the fact that they were not disclosed.

Informed of the allegations, Veronica Williams' cousin, who has custody of the couple's three children, said Cleaven Williams cultivated relationships with police and other civic leaders over the years, both in Frederick, where the couple once lived, and in Baltimore. The cousin, Carlin Robinson, has accused him of using those ties to dissuade his wife from going to the authorities for help.

"I just keep going over in my mind how many people have helped him," Robinson said yesterday. "The thing I'm in awe of is it just seems like he has gotten away with so many things. This is where it has to end."

Even if the warrant had been served, Cleaven Williams would likely have been able to post bond and would have been released. But the dialogue between Lioi and him was troubling to domestic violence advocates such as House of Ruth Executive Director Carole Alexander, who called the allegations "appalling."

Lioi joined the department in 1994, following in his father's footsteps. Officers said he is well-respected, having risen to oversee the organized crime division as a lieutenant before moving to the gun task force.

At a community meeting last year, residents praised him for quickly responding to drug complaints when they called, and he worked long hours, hosting events for children or visiting crime scenes.

Baltimore Sun reporters Melissa Harris and Peter Hermann contributed to this article.

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