Police unit disbanded amid investigations

Three officers suspended in two separate probes in Northwest District

September 29, 2010|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore police have disbanded the plainclothes unit that investigates drugs in Northwest Baltimore amid allegations of misconduct against three officers in two different units, the department confirmed Wednesday.

Six officers who make up the Northwest District drug unit were sent back to patrol amid the suspension of the unit's supervisor and one officer, who are accused of using a stolen license plate on an unmarked vehicle, said Anthony Guglielmi, the department's chief spokesman.

Separately, an officer assigned to the elite Violent Crimes Impact Section (VCIS) was suspended last week after being targeted in an internal affairs "integrity sting," which is typically used to catch officers pocketing drugs or money.

Guglielmi confirmed that the officer was suspended and that police were conferring with the state's attorney's office on charges, but would not comment further. Sources identified the officer as Kody Taylor, a three-year veteran, and said he is accused of pocketing money planted on an undercover officer.

"These are internal personnel matters being investigated by internal affairs," Guglielmi said. "We're going to determine if there's any criminal component to this, and if there is, we'll work with the state's attorney's office's police misconduct unit."

The breakup of the Northwest drug unit comes amid a slew of shootings in the district, which includes the Arlington, Park Heights and Falstaff neighborhoods. Six people were shot in the district between Friday morning and Sunday night, according to the Police Department.

The violence started about 11:30 a.m. Friday, when a 25-year-old man was shot in the lower stomach in the 3600 block of Howard Park Ave. One man was killed amid the violence — 38-year-old Donnie Martin, who was shot in the 3100 block of Chelsea Terrace on Saturday.

At a briefing on Friday afternoon, attended by residents who paired up with officers to patrol the streets as part of a citywide "open house," Maj. Johnny Delgado, the district commander, noted the brazenness of the daytime shooting.

"Why we're getting shootings at 11, 11:30 in the morning — I can't answer that," Delgado said.

Guglielmi sought to tamp down concerns about breaking up the drug unit, saying unfilled positions in patrol because of officers on vacation or taking sick leave played a role in the decision.

He said that the VCIS detectives, already deployed in the Park Heights area, would assume a greater role in their absence. The unit, formed under Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, is the latest incarnation of the department's special enforcement and organized crime divisions, with detectives given great flexibility to investigate and develop intelligence on violent criminals.

"VCIS has been staffed appropriately to deal with narcotics enforcement" in the Northwest District, Guglielmi said.

It was not immediately clear how the stolen license plate came to the attention of investigators, or why the officers were using it. Sources speculated that it could have been done to throw off complaints about the officers operating the vehicles, or simply to keep the vehicles from being impounded because of unpaid red light ticket fees.

Guglielmi said internal affairs and the chief of patrol's office were working to answer those questions.

Meanwhile, police and prosecutors appeared to be proceeding cautiously in bringing charges against Taylor, a VCIS detective who was targeted in an "integrity sting" last week. Guglielmi could not say where Taylor was assigned, but court records indicate many of his arrests came in the Northwest District.

Last fall, a similar sting snared Northwest District Officer Michael Sylvester, who was accused of stealing $70 from a wad of bills planted on an undercover officer, as well as drugs.

Police trumpeted the case, one of the first public moves to clean up the department after a number of negative stories flooded out of internal affairs, including the firing of the trial board prosecutor and the dismissal of more than 50 internal disciplinary cases, the reasons for which remain unclear.

But inconsistencies in the investigation arose almost immediately. Two supervisors in the internal affairs division's ethics unit were transferred, and misconduct and theft charges against Sylvester were dropped.

Some have criticized the Police Department's "integrity stings," which have rarely resulted in catching corrupt officers in the act. And even when police have brought charges as a result of a sting, the cases have encountered problems in court.

A top prosecutor told The Baltimore Sun last fall that they are effective, however, and said police and prosecutors must work closely to ensure that proper procedures are followed.

Court records show that Taylor has made numerous arrests this month for drugs and handguns, and those cases would likely be jeopardized if he is charged.

Baltimore Sun reporter Yeganeh June Torbati contributed to this article.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

http://twitter.com/justin_fenton



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