Two Busted By Bealefeld Avoid Jail Time, Highlighting Challenge Of Gun Convictions

August 11, 2009|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,justin.fenton@baltsun.com

Even a gun bust made by Baltimore's top cop can't buy jail time.

Two brothers detained by Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III on New Year's Eve after he chased down men firing shotgun blasts into the night accepted plea deals Monday that will not require them to serve jail time.

The arrests were dramatic, an example of Bealefeld personally carrying out his oft-reiterated strategy of going after "bad guys with guns." The commissioner and a member of his executive protection team pursued the suspects through an alley and into a rowhouse, and Bealefeld held one of them at gunpoint as a crush of officers converged to back him up.

But the disposition in court eight months later highlights the city's continued challenges in translating such arrests into meaningful convictions. Bealefeld and Mayor Sheila Dixon have recently stepped up criticism of the judicial system for its role in the city's crime fight, specifically singling out judges.

Bealefeld on Monday declined to comment on the outcome of the case, while the mayor's office released a two-sentence statement expressing displeasure. Dixon said she was "disappointed" by the outcome of the case and said it underscored the need to establish mandatory jail time for people who possess illegal, loaded guns.

Prosecutors said they had asked for jail time - nine months each - but that the reduced sentences were offered by Judge Martin P. Welch through an occasionally used power in which judges can intervene in plea negotiations.

A spokeswoman said State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy was satisfied with the sentence.

"Mrs. Jessamy has said publicly many times that our jails should be reserved for violent repeat offenders," said spokeswoman Margaret T. Burns. "Nonviolent offenders should be given an opportunity to prove themselves on probation, or in court-ordered early intervention and treatment programs like Drug Court, etc., and hopefully become productive members of our community."

Brothers Devin, 18, and Davon Rogers, 26, did not have the type of arrest record that so often draws complaints about Baltimore's judicial system. Devin Rogers had no prior adult criminal history, and Davon Rogers had four drug arrests but none since 2004. One of their defense attorneys said the case was "not what it was made out to be."

The Rogers brothers were arrested Jan. 1 after Bealefeld and Peter Sullivan, a member of his executive protection unit, saw two men firing weapons.

They chased the suspects into a home in the Shipley Hill neighborhood and recovered a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun and a Remington 12-gauge shotgun. Both were charged with eight misdemeanor gun charges and released on bail later that day.

On Monday, Devin Rogers entered an Alford plea - in which a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges there is enough evidence to convict - to one charge of discharging a firearm and received probation before judgment and three years of probation. If Devin Rogers receives a GED, the probation length would be reduced to two years.

Davon Rogers pleaded guilty to possessing a short-barrel shotgun and discharging a firearm. He received four years in prison, but the sentence was suspended except for time served - or less than a day. He also received three years of supervised probation.

Both will be required to register for the city's Gun Offender Registry, developed by Dixon.

Leonard Shapiro, who represented the younger brother, said the pair were celebrating with older family members on New Year's Eve and that his client was playing video games in an upstairs bedroom with a nephew when the shots were fired. He emphasized that Devin Rogers had no criminal record, and that his brother was married with children and has a steady job.

"He [Devin] was given a favorable offer by the court, and he wanted to take that, not have this case drag out," Shapiro said. "One would think if these were really terrible guys, this case might not have been resolved in the way it did."

Because the gun possession charges are misdemeanors, neither was eligible for the mandatory felony sentence of five years without parole, Burns said. She added that the state's initial offer was within the sentencing guidelines, which dictate punishment based on a defendant's prior record and the severity of the crime.

"Our community benefits when first-time offenders and nonviolent offenders take advantage of probation and court-ordered programs to become productive law-abiding citizens," Burns said.

Under Dixon's tenure, police and prosecutors have been working more closely on cases that involve handguns, holding weekly GunStat meetings to discuss the intricacies of the cases in an effort to strengthen prosecutions.

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