City officer linked to federal investigation is fired

Officer accused of using police databases to find information on undercover officer for drug target

November 15, 2010|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore police have fired an officer who was arrested last week after it was revealed that he looked up information in police databases for a suspected drug dealer being monitored by federal agents, according to police and his attorney.

The officer, Keith Nowlin, was taken into custody early Wednesday morning and released after a tag number he ran for a friend turned out to be that of an undercover police officer, said his attorney, Warren Brown.

Though he has not been charged with a crime, Nowlin was fired Friday, a police spokesman said. The 37-year-old officer had been hired a year ago and was still in his probationary period, during which Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III has the authority to fire him without a hearing.

Records show Nowlin came to the department with a long legal history. In the court system's online database, Nowlin appears more times as a defendant — in numerous civil and domestic violence cases — than he does as an arresting officer.

"Given his involvement with a federal investigation, the police commissioner decided that type of behavior is unworthy of being a Baltimore police officer and immediately terminated him," said spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

Brown played down the incident, saying the officer believed he was doing a friend a favor.

"Alarm bells went off because it was an undercover agent's car, but if it was anything, they would have charged him," Brown said. Agents "stayed on top of this guy and nothing — nothing — else ever popped up, before or after this one request," he said.

A second officer, a sergeant who works in the Southern District, also has had her police powers suspended in connection with that investigation, the department confirmed. Brown said that Nowlin asked the second officer to use her department-issued BlackBerry, equipped with software called "PocketCop," to search for the automobile information he had been asked for.

Sources say other officers could be implicated as part of a broader probe, but U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein and Bealefeld declined to comment last week.

Nowlin was assigned to the Northeastern District. Before being hired by the Police Department, he appears to have been a businessman and property owner, listed in seven foreclosure cases and several contract disputes. Records show he owns a company called Nowlin Auto Exchange on Belle Grove Road.

Between 2002 and 2005, he was listed as a defendant in five domestic violence cases in Prince George's County and Baltimore involving two women. In 2002, he was acquitted of burglary and felony theft charges in Baltimore Circuit Court when the case was dropped.

Brown has represented Nowlin in some of those cases and said his client also worked as a bail bondsman.

Robert Cherry, president of the city police union, which is not representing Nowlin, bemoaned a lowering of hiring standards in the department that he says has been exacerbated by a lack of pay raises that would keep pace with neighboring departments.

"It's upsetting that this early in his career, he's willing to compromise the integrity of the department and put other cops at risk," Cherry said.

Brown said Nowlin had been intercepted on a wiretap investigation communicating with Marvin "Fats" Mobley, a 32-year-old who was indicted with another man earlier this month on cocaine conspiracy charges.

Documents filed by the Drug Enforcement Administration allege that Mobley would send hundreds of thousands of dollars each month to a drug supplier in Atlanta. A confidential informant purchased cocaine from Mobley in the parking lot of an Applebee's restaurant on Reisterstown Road. Nowlin's name does not appear in documents related to that case.

"He ran one tag," Brown said. "We understand their suspicions, but there's nothing. Trust me. If there was, he wouldn't be walking around right now."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton



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