Officer who failed to appear at trial spends night at Central Booking

Judge issues warrant for woman prosecutors call 'necessary witness' in gun case

March 17, 2010|By Tricia Bishop |

A Baltimore police officer spent Monday night at the Central Booking and Intake Center after a Circuit Court judge issued a "material witness" warrant against the woman -- at the request of the city's State's Attorney's Office -- when she didn't appear for a gun trial that afternoon.

"This is an important prosecution, this is a necessary prosecution, and this particular police officer was a necessary witness," said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office. "Without her testimony, we would not have been able to go forward."

The officer, listed in court records as Victoria Wingfield, was scheduled to testify in a case against Kinte Johnson, 35, who was charged with being a felon illegally in possession of a handgun. But she never appeared, and the contact numbers she left had been disconnected, Burns said.

"We are reviewing all the facts of this case" to make sure that something like this never happens again, said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, referring specifically to an officer spending the night in lockup, which he called a "literally extraordinary event." He added that Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III is "personally involved" in the review.

In a brief telephone interview Tuesday, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Gale E. Rasin confirmed that she had issued the warrant. Wingfield, 36, who is assigned to the Southwestern District patrol, appeared in court that morning to testify during a motions hearing.

"She got on the stand, and for her benefit, I told her what happened [Monday] and talked about what it means to be on call," Rasin said.

Wingfield's testimony was crucial in fighting a defense motion to suppress certain information, Burns said. The officer was not called as a witness for the prosecution during the trial, which lasted about two hours, though she testified for the defense Tuesday afternoon.

After a brief deliberation Tuesday, a jury returned a conviction against Johnson, Burns said.

According to the facts presented during the trial, Wingfield and another officer discovered Johnson one January night in 2009 attempting to conceal something while he sat in a green minivan on the 1900 block of Sponson St. Wingfield parked behind the van and acted as the backup officer, while her partner checked out the vehicle. He saw a face mask, black gloves, two pry bars and what appeared to be the butt of a handgun. A semiautomatic pistol was later recovered, and Johnson was arrested, along with another man.

Court records show Johnson, who lives in Crofton, has prior convictions for drug possession with the intent to distribute.

Getting guns off the streets, particularly those possessed by convicted felons, is a priority for Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, who is urging the legislature to strengthen proposed gun laws. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake has also urged lawmakers to tighten gun legislation and stressed the importance of the issue during her State of the City address last month.

Johnson was sentenced to five years without parole for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Baltimore Assistant State's Attorney Jason Knight prosecuted the case.

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