Judge Sentences Addict To Hope

CRIME BEAT

April 26, 2009|By PETER HERMANN

Michael D. Sydnor Jr. is finally getting the help that he needs.

This is no small accomplishment, as District Judge George M. Lipman made cler when he learned that the drug-addicted defendant suspected of fueling a plague of car break-ins in downtown Baltimore had been accepted into an inpatient treatment program.

"Hallelujah," the judge said, a pronouncement not often heard from the bench, and certainly not from this jurist, who apologized several times for being too preachy during Friday morning's docket at the Hargrove District Court in South Baltimore. He told one man, upset that being sent off to jail meant his car would be towed, "I don't wipe people's noses."

Sydnor starts May 1 at Damascus House.

"I'm real happy," Lipman told the shackled defendant who stood next to the public defender, guarded by two correctional officers.

But no judge can express happiness without a warning: "To those who are given, much is expected."

I first wrote about Sydnor back in February, painting the 40-year-old as the face of a problem that drives residents crazy and tourists out of the city. Day after day, police reports of car break-ins pile up from Federal Hill, around the Inner Harbor and to the far edges of Canton.

Cell phones used to be the prized catch, but now navigational devices, iPods and iPhones are all the rage, usually stolen by addicts seeking electronics to hawk for a quick buck to score a quick high, a never-ending cycle of car-to-needle-to-car that ends up costing us thousands upon thousands of dollars in increased insurance premiums, car window repairs and replacements for stolen items.

Sydnor is charged with breaking into two cars in January at a garage at 218 N. Charles St., and authorities tell me he's suspected in other break-ins at garages at The Baltimore Sun and Mercy Medical Center on North Calvert Street. He has been in jail for the past three months awaiting word on a coveted, hard-to-get drug treatment slot, and his cases will be put on hold until he gets through the program.

Police have arrested Sydnor more than 100 times in the past 15 years and he's been convicted dozens of times, mostly of seemingly petty, nonviolent offenses. In November 2007, Christopher Nieto of the Public Defender's Office tried to get him help.

But the request fell through the cracks and Nieto said he failed to follow through. Repeating a familiar pattern, a judge sent Sydnor to prison for 18 months. He walked out after serving a year, but without the benefit of treatment. The addict returned to his vices and ended up where he was on Friday, in front of Judge Lipman, charged with breaking into more cars, and still addicted to drugs.

But this time his new public defender, Robert Leonard, got his client evaluated and Damascus House accepted him. Nobody said Sydnor should never serve time, but to repeatedly shove him through a revolving door without at least trying to help him only guarantees that the one-man crime wave will continue when he gets out.

Next, Lipman faced Clinton H. Hines, a 42-year-old addict who couldn't complete the drug program at the very same treatment center to which Sydnor is going. Leonard tried to get Hines another chance, but the judge's patience had run out. He read from a treatment center report that alleged Hines picked fights, was combative, interfered with the care for other patients and didn't follow directions.

"He is a drug addict," said Leonard, whose client was convicted of drug possession.

"We know that," the judge answered. "But he's burned his bridges. ... Damascus House wants a divorce."

Lipman, who once ruled over drug court and was himself a public defender, has heard all the excuses, and there are too few drug treatment slots available to waste one on somebody who's already failed.

"What do you want me to do?" the judge asked. "Find you a fourth, fifth and sixth program? I'm not going to do that. At some point, I can't order the executive branch of the state of Maryland to spend any more money on you."

Lipman sent Hines to jail for five months. His chance is over. We'll know soon how Sydnor does with his opportunity.

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