City Attorney Quits On Heels Of Trial Board

19-year Veteran Had Sought Dismissal Of Police Officer

October 30, 2009|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Peter.hermann@baltsun.com

A city attorney resigned Thursday immediately after failing to persuade an internal disciplinary board to recommend firing a police officer convicted of administrative charges of assaulting a man outside a Federal Hill pizza shop in 2005.

The attorney, Sandra Holmes, got a partial victory in her case against Officer Michael D. Brassell - an assault conviction and a recommendation to the police commissioner that Brassell be suspended 60 days without pay. But the board found the officer not guilty of lying to investigators, which carries an automatic termination.

Officials refused to say why Holmes, who had worked for the city Law Department since 1990 and was assigned to the Police Department, departed and whether it was because of the outcome at the hearing, called a trial board.

City Solicitor George Nilson said, "There was a trial board. Following that proceeding, she resigned."

Anthony Guglielmi, the chief spokesman for the Police Department, said Holmes "has been separated" from the agency. He also declined to comment on the reasons.

Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III can disregard the trial board's recommendation and fire Brassell, but he declined to comment through a spokesman on what action he might take.

Brassell's attorney, Sean Malone, a former chief legal counsel for the Police Department and former state labor commissioner, said the city sacrificed Holmes after forcing her to try a case with flimsy evidence.

"It's not for the benefit of the officers or for the benefit of the department to go forward on an investigation that is not complete," said Malone, who is now a private defense lawyer. "Sandra Holmes is not at fault in this case. She tried the case with the evidence she had. This was a poorly investigated case."

The latest tumult in the city police disciplinary process raises more questions about how officers are scrutinized and sanctioned for wrongdoing.

In April, the police commissioner fired JoAnn C. Woodson-Branche, who oversaw the trial board process, with officials alleging that she backdated documents after deadlines for charging officers had been missed. After she was fired, police said they were forced to dismiss at least 50 police misconduct cases. Woodson-Branche has accused the department of micromanaging her office and said that she followed their directives.

Last week, Kim Y. Johnson, who investigated racial discrimination complaints in the Police Department, resigned after it was learned she moonlighted as defense attorney for people arrested by officers of her own department.

Brassell's case stems from a fight outside Maria D's shop on Light Street four years ago. Akhenaton R. Bonaparte IV, a Morgan State University office manager, said two white plainclothes officers overhead him talking with two students about race, interrupted his conversation and confronted him outside.

He said one of the officers poked him in the chest, and he retaliated by punching the officer in the face. The officers then tackled him onto the hood of a car and he flagged down a passing police officer to file a complaint. Officer Jack H. Odom resigned after the incident and in April last year received a 10-day suspended jail sentence and a year of probation.

At the same Circuit Court hearing, Brassell was sentenced to a suspended 60-day jail term, put on a year of probation and ordered to attend an anger management class. Both officers accepted pleas to second-degree assault as part of Alford pleas, which means they didn't admit guilt but conceded that the state had enough evidence to convict them.

Malone said Brassell was found not guilty at Thursday's trial board of lying to investigators and of using racial slurs.

"There was overwhelming evidence in this case that Detective Brassell never made a false statement," Malone said. "The record was void of any racial slurs."

Malone said city lawyers failed to interview key witnesses and didn't run a background check on people involved with the case. He said the trial board "did the right thing in this case."

The Police Department's chief legal affairs chief, Mark Grimes, could not be reached for comment. Deputy Major Dan Lioli, who chaired the trial board, did not return calls seeking comment.

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