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Half those arrested in riot released without charges

Delegate: “You're letting the instigators back on the street.”

After arresting more than 200 people this week while bringing order to the streets of Baltimore, police said Wednesday they had to let half of them go.

A police spokesman said that amid the bedlam of Monday's unrest, it was difficult to document which officers had arrested which suspects and for precisely what reasons. Gov. Larry Hogan took steps to keep people jailed for two days without charges — nearly twice as long as usually allowed — but it still wasn't long enough for officers to sort out what happened.

"There was a chaotic situation. We had officers being attacked, officers being injured." said Capt. Eric Kowalczyk, the spokesman. He said the department would review video and other evidence to determine exactly who had or hadn't done what, and would file charges later if appropriate.

"These were lawful arrests for acts of violence," he said.

Many of those who were charged were sent back to the Baltimore City Detention Center to await trial after district court judges set bail at $10,000 and more — amounts their defense lawyers called "excessive."

"The bails that we're hearing about now are out-of-the ordinary," said Paul B. DeWolf, the Maryland public defender. "Some of these people are children. Some were just picked up on the street. It's not been proven that they were guilty of anything."

Experts say it's reasonable for a police department to lose track of which officer arrested which protester during the confusion of a riot — and that most agencies are unprepared for dealing with such a situation. During the 1968 riots in Baltimore, when more than 5,000 people were arrested, officials admitted they did not provide due process to all who were detained. Some of those arrested remained in jail for five days before appearing in court and officials lost arrest records of others.

"It's a well-worn territory about having to deal with arrests amid civil unrest," said Eugene O'Donnell of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. The bigger concern, O'Donnell said, is that public officials kept people for an unusually long time and it is unclear whether they tried hard enough to resolve their cases quickly.

"There's a natural tension between the police, who want to keep people locked up as long as possible amidst civil disorder, and preserving people's civil rights," he said. "The governor has to be accountable. Why did you do it?"

One Republican lawmaker was troubled by the release of so many, but made clear he was not criticizing police.

"Obviously it's disturbing," said Del. John W. E. Cluster Jr. of Baltimore County, a former law enforcement officer. "You're letting the instigators back on the street and they think they can get away with it now.

"At the same time, I can understand the confusion. You couldn't take those officers off the street to go do paperwork as they were making arrests, and now they're not exactly sure who did what at the end of the day. It's a learning experience. This hasn't happened to any agency in Maryland in a long time."

Suspects arrested during rioting Monday started appearing before judges Wednesday morning at District Court in South Baltimore. Their cases offered examples of the mayhem that spread across the city.

During a hearing for Donovan Sampson, 26, of East Baltimore, defense attorney Linda A. Ramirez argued a proposed $150,000 bail was excessive for someone charged with theft after police said he tried to make off with 132 bottles of vodka.

But Judge Kathleen M. Sweeney said her primary concern was public safety, and noted the defendant had prior convictions. "Taking advantage of a situation is dangerous," Sweeney said. She set bail at $100,000.

Judge Jack Lesser heard arguments about a man who police said was caught with 10 others outside the Shoe City store at the Westside Shopping Center. Officers said the men had looted Nikes. His lawyer said he was just walking home and was caught in the middle of the riot.

"The court cannot ignore the circumstances in which he was arrested," Lesser said, setting bail at $10,000.

Jermauh Johnson, 32, of North Avenue, was charged with fourth-degree burglary at a liquor store near his home. Johnson's attorney argued that police said only that he was at the store, but Lesser said the court considered him "a significant threat" and ordered a $7,500 cash bail.

Johnson's mother, Deborah Queen, 53, who took a bus from North Baltimore to the Patapsco Avenue courthouse, said bail was set impossibly high and that her son will unfairly remain in jail. "There's no way I can pay," she said outside the courtroom.

More than 100 of those detained in connection with the riots were released without charges. Many were leaving the detention center Wednesday night in groups of four or five.

Among them was Kentroy Lyde, 23, of Lansdowne, who is married and has four children. He said he was walking on Frederick Avenue on Monday night when he was stopped by police and thrown to the ground. He said officers took his money, keys, cellphone and wedding ring, which he had not gotten back.

He said he never went before a court commissioner or received charging papers.

"I'm happy I am out of there now. I think it's wrong to lock people up for nothing," he said.

Another, Carrick Bastiany-Gaumnitz, said he was arrested while he was walking on Pratt Street. He wanted to show his friend who lives in Denver how empty the streets were.

"The next thing you know, a group of officers surrounded me," he said. He said never learned what he was charged with, never received any charging papers, and no one knew he was there.

"Anything could've happened to me and nobody would have known anything about it," he said.

Mark A. Vernarelli, a spokesman for the jail, said the facility had no problem accommodating the influx of detainees. He noted Baltimore's high level of violent crime.

"It's a really high-volume facility," he said. "They're accustomed to large numbers coming in. I'm not aware of any problems whatsoever."

Hogan signed an order Tuesday to give the police more time to file charges after consulting with Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. Baltimore City Solicitor George Nilson said he asked for the order after learning that police paperwork was "in some instances incomplete or missing."

Nilson said suspects are "entitled to get constitutional due process, but it shouldn't be that everybody gets out of jail because the paperwork isn't all caught up."

Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said Wednesday evening the agency still is investigating those who were released.

"We're not giving up on them," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Ian Duncan contributed to this article.

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