Detective, Deputy Acquitted

2 Officers Were Accused Of Assault In Govans

April 15, 2009|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,justin.fenton@baltsun.com

A city homicide detective and a Baltimore County sheriff's deputy were acquitted Tuesday of assaulting a man outside a Govans barbershop in a case that took an unusual path to trial.

Prosecutors said Detective Terry W. Love Jr., 31, and Deputy Michael Herring, 37, were trying to teach Andre Thomas, 43, a lesson Sept. 8, 2007 after he burst into the Detailer Barbershop on York Road and spewed profanities. Three eyewitnesses who pulled over to help Thomas said they watched two men kick and punch him repeatedly.

But defense attorneys noted that Thomas, a bipolar man with a long criminal record, had no significant injuries. They said Thomas had threatened to kill patrons of the barbershop and that Love followed him outside, believing he had a weapon. Thomas swung first, the defense said, leading to an altercation that ended when Love was able to determine that Thomas was unarmed. Herring testified that he helped Love control the incident.

Jurors heard six days of testimony, returning the verdict after a day of deliberations.

"I got my life back," said Love, a second-generation officer whose father is on the force.

However, a spokeswoman for State's Attorney Patricia A. Jessamy said Love will be added to the office's "do not call" list, which means prosecutors will no longer call him to testify in court and effectively limits his activities as an officer.

The case took a convoluted path to trial. Taking advantage of a rarely used power, the state's attorney's office assumed control of the investigation nine days after the incident, according to testimony. Six law enforcement sources with knowledge of the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said prosecutors got involved at the request of detectives who were worried that the Police Department was trying to quash the case.

"There are many challenges when the Police Department is required to investigate criminal allegations involving fellow officers," Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office, said in an e-mail. "When these challenges arise, the deputy state's attorney in charge of police misconduct becomes involved."

Deputy State's Attorney Haven Kodeck questioned witnesses at the city courthouse with the assistance of Detective Joel Hawk, who originally was assigned to investigate the case, and Baltimore County internal affairs deputies. A key witness proved difficult to track down, and sources said the case eventually fell down a list of priorities.

Love was reinstated for active duty in August 2008, prompting a call from Herring's then-attorney to confirm that the men had been cleared. The sources say that phone call reignited the case. Charges were filed Sept. 5, 2008, more than 360 days after the incident.

Love's defense attorney, Clarke Ahlers, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, claimed that the charges were payback for a race discrimination complaint filed in March 2008. Circuit Court Judge George L. Russell barred the defense from raising that theory, saying it was irrelevant.

At trial, Matthew Moritz, a Blockbuster video store manager driving south on York Road, said he saw Thomas being beaten and did a U-turn, honking his horn in an attempt to break up the scrum. Mark Baker and Tom Raphael, construction workers on the way to a job in Canton, pulled over, with one jumping out to render aid to the victim and the other giving a play-by-play to 911 dispatcher as he followed one of the fleeing attackers.

Prosecutors said they believed a crucial piece of evidence was a report filed by Love to inform his supervisors of the off-duty altercation, in which he wrote that Thomas was able to break free and elude him. But the three witnesses stayed with the victim at the scene of the incident as an ambulance picked him up and took him to Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"We presented a strong case, and we are disappointed in the jury's verdict," Burns said. Thomas' testimony, however, was erratic, as he claimed he was beaten by three men - not two - who were carrying brass knuckles, a claim that was not substantiated.

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