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Former Baltimore Co. police officer gets community service, probation in drug case

Former Baltimore Co. police officer avoids jail time in drug case

A former Baltimore County police officer who pleaded guilty in a drug case will avoid jail time and instead face probation and community service.

Joseph Stanley Harden, 32, was sentenced Monday to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service. He could have received seven years of incarceration after he pleaded guilty in April to attempted fourth-degree burglary and possession of oxycodone.

In July 2014, Harden was accused of trying to kick in the door of a drug dealer in Dundalk to steal drugs. Harden announced that he was a police officer while trying to get into the dealer's home, and prosecutors said such actions endanger the credibility of other officers.

Prosecutor John Magee asked for jail time Monday, saying Harden had abused his authority.

"It can be tough enough to be a good police officer," Magee told Baltimore County Circuit Judge Ruth Jakubowski. "He certainly should be held accountable."

The former officer's defense attorney, John Grason Turnbull III, said Harden already had been held accountable because he lost his career. Harden — once named "officer of the year" at the county Police Department's Essex precinct — agreed to resign from the department as part of a plea deal with prosecutors. 

He was suspended from the department from the time of his arrest until he resigned.

"He looked at his officer friends as family, and he has lost that family in one fell swoop," Turnbull said.

Turnbull outlined Harden's descent into prescription drug addiction and said his client has devoted himself to getting sober since his arrest, completing drug treatment and attending 12-step meetings five to seven times a week.

Harden started using narcotic painkillers while recovering from on-the-job injuries that included a broken hand from fighting with a suspect, Turnbull said.

Turnbull said Harden suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after a June 2013 incident when the officer shot and killed Arnett Myers, 57, in front of the Colony Hotel in White Marsh. Police said Myers, who was on a scooter, tried to grab the gun of another officer. The shooting was deemed justified by the Police Department and the county state's attorney's office.

Turnbull said Harden was cleared for duty after a 15-minute meeting with a departmental psychiatrist even though police officials knew he was using painkillers. Turnbull said Harden's drug abuse was "not a great secret" among his colleagues.

Police spokesman Cpl. John Wachter declined to comment on Turnbull's statements about the department.

Turnbull questioned whether the county Police Department had adequate safeguards in place to help officers struggling with mental distress. He compared the police culture to that of the NFL, where he said players are rushed back onto the field after injuries.

"The police mentality is, get back out there," Turnbull said.

Harden, who now works for a bail bondsman, addressed the court during his hearing, saying he wanted to apologize to everyone he had hurt. He said he was struggling with PTSD and depression, but as a police officer was reluctant to seek help.

"In that culture, asking for help, it's not really what people do," he said.

Jakubowski gave Harden a three-year suspended sentence and said he would be required to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings and submit to drug testing as part of his probation. In handing down her sentence, Jakubowski said she was troubled by Harden's abuse of his police power but believed he had taken his arrest seriously.

The judge said she wants Harden's community service to focus on mentoring young people.

"I'm going to let you prove yourself and work on the street, rather than behind bars," she said.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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