Police misconduct case first Bernstein will try as top prosecutor

Trial vs. three city police officers begins Thursday

April 12, 2011|By Justin Fenton and Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein will try his first case as the city's top prosecutor this week when three city officers go on trial for misconduct allegations, his office confirmed.

Officers Tyrone S. Francis, Milton G. Smith III and Gregory Hellen are accused of picking up a teenager in West Baltimore in May 2009 and dropping him off in Patapsco Valley State Park in Howard County, without shoes or a cellphone.

The officers were indicted last March on charges of kidnapping, false imprisonment, second-degree assault and misconduct in office, among other counts.

During his campaign last year, Bernstein, a former federal prosecutor and defense attorney, had criticized his predecessor, Patricia C. Jessamy, as out of touch and said he planned to try cases alongside his assistants. Jessamy saw trying cases as outside her responsibilities as the office's administrator.

"I'm not going to cherry-pick high-profile cases. That's not what this is about," Bernstein said in a television interview last fall. "What I'm suggesting is that, as the state's attorney, it's important to show leadership, and you show leadership by being in the courtroom prosecuting whatever cases need to be prosecuted."

Through a spokesman, Bernstein declined to comment on why he picked this case, first reported by Fox 45 TV, but it appears both a logical and symbolic choice.

Bernstein's replacement for the former police misconduct division, prosecutor Doug Ludwig, doesn't start until May 1. And Bernstein has faced questions over his relationship with police after he was endorsed by Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III. Jessamy said Bernstein would be a "rubber stamp" for police.

Bernstein was supported by the city's Fraternal Order of Police, a labor organization that is paying legal costs for Francis, Smith and Hellen. Last year, union president Robert F. Cherry called the allegations "trumped-up charges" and said that "the facts will show the officers were doing their jobs."

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had called attention to the case, and the teen and his family filed a $100 million lawsuit against the officers.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com



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