Teen Wrongly Charged In Crime At Carryout

April 29, 2009|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,melissa.harris@baltsun.com

Baltimore police and prosecutors have acknowledged charging an innocent teenager in the August 2008 shooting and robbery of a customer inside a Northeast Baltimore Chinese carryout - a crime that drew outrage from Mayor Sheila Dixon after surveillance video showed two girls laughing during the holdup and customers stepping over the victim to get food.

Seven months after bringing indictments in the case, city prosecutors dropped the charges against one of the two suspects, Darren Brown, 17, of the 3300 block of Ellerslie Ave. Last week, they charged the second suspect's cousin, Kevin Johnson, 15, of the 2700 block of Tivoly Ave., as an adult in the crime.

Brown had been in jail awaiting trial since the day after the Aug. 6 robbery.

Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, said the office has opened an investigation into errors by police and prosecutors. Her police counterpart, Anthony Guglielmi, said that the department was reviewing charging procedures.

"From what I understand, police sought the warrant for Brown's arrest without the approval of a prosecutor," Burns said. "Still, [prosecutors] took it to the grand jury. ... Typically, there are multiple safeguards in place to prevent this from occurring."

Burns said a police officer, Paul Southard, said that he recognized Brown on the videotape and sought a warrant for his arrest. Soon after, the mother of the other suspect, David Jefferson, 17, told another detective that Brown was not involved. It was her nephew, Johnson, on the videotape, she said.

The case was then passed among several prosecutors and supervisors because of staffing changes.

When prosecutor Kelly Madigan got the case, she acted on concerns from a newly hired defense attorney and took a harder look, asking detectives to find Jefferson's mother. Among those interviewed was Detective Julian Min, who said he saw Brown walking back from a 7-Eleven at the time the call for the robbery went out.

"The video was horrible. Horrible," said Stanley Needleman, Brown's attorney. "You see skin. That's it. ... Kelly Madigan got the detective in. I don't know exactly what she did. But she did the right thing."

Since then, the state's attorney's office firearms unit has come under new leadership. The new division chief, Matthew Fraling, will be enforcing an existing policy that requires his team to have control over the charging of defendants in attempted-murder cases, Burns said.

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