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Lead detective in woman's killing defends reputation in court

A Baltimore homicide detective went to court Tuesday to try to overturn an internal punishment in a case that saw him handcuffed and stripped of his badge and gun by a fellow officer as he investigated a kidnapping.

The detective, Joshua Ellsworth, is the lead investigator in the killing of an 84-year-old woman in East Baltimore and appeared before television cameras Monday to drum up tips in the case. But he was nearly fired after getting into an argument three years ago with a patrol supervisor, Sgt. Jonathan Brickus, and now wants a judge to overturn the department's decision to suspend him for seven days.

"We're here because he has a reputation to uphold and a blemish on his record when in his mind, he was doing exactly what he was ordered to do," his attorney, Clarke Ahlers, told Circuit Judge John P. Miller on Tuesday.

The disciplinary case dates to August 2009, when Ellsworth was assigned to investigate the kidnapping of a female corrections officer. Ellsworth was directed by Brickus not to approach a suspect's home, because Brickus was concerned that the scene was not secure, according to testimony.

"You're going to have to suspend me then, sir. I'm going to save that girl," Ellsworth responded, according to testimony, prompting Brickus to arrest him in the street and take his weapon and badge for not following his order.

It was an unusual step — a lieutenant who witnessed the incident said of the arrest, according to attorneys: "We looked like idiots in the eyes of the public." Christopher Sakels, a city attorney, said the altercation was "an embarrassment to the Police Department, no question about it."

Part of Ellsworth's appeal involves the testimony against him by Detective Daniel Redd, who two months after appearing at Ellsworth's disciplinary hearing would be charged in a federal indictment with heroin distribution. Ahlers contends the department knew Redd was untrustworthy when it called him as a witness.

"Like everything associated with the Baltimore Police Department, the simple becomes complex and the patent becomes obtuse," Ahlers wrote in court papers.

Sakels countered that Ellsworth's punishment wasn't as bad as the department's initial recommendation of termination.

"So he ought to be satisfied?" Miller asked.

"Yeah," Sakels said. "He was disrespectful to Brickus, and his conduct was unbecoming. … Just because Brickus is wrong doesn't mean Ellsworth is right."

Brickus declined to comment on the case.

Ellsworth joined the Police Department in 2003 and has investigated dozens of homicide cases. The latest case has him trying to find the killer of Mary Hines, 84, who was stabbed to death and found in a fire at her East Baltimore home. Police recanvassed her neighborhood Monday, appealing for clues.

"Mrs. Hines was loved and respected by every person we've spoken to," Ellsworth said at the crime scene Monday. "We're hoping that will encourage people to come forward and contribute."

Ahlers said Ellsworth was willing to put the 2009 arrest behind him, but Brickus filed a complaint with internal affairs. Recommended for termination, Ellsworth exercised his right to an internal trial heard last year by a panel of three peers — among them Deputy Maj. Marc Partee, who months earlier had been the supervisor on the scene at the fatal Select Lounge shooting.

Such disciplinary hearings are closed to the public, but testimony was cited or summarized by attorneys in Tuesday's hearing.

Lt. Dameon Carter testified at the trial board hearing that Ellsworth arrived at the scene in the 2700 block of W. Garrison Ave. and began walking toward the residence of a possible suspect in the case, court records show. "I have to do something," Ellsworth said, according to Carter's testimony.

Brickus, according to Carter, said, "Don't go down there. … If you go down there, you're suspended."

Ahlers said in court Tuesday that Brickus said he was concerned about Ellsworth's safety. Ellsworth's then-supervisor, Maj. Terrence McLarney, however, testified that "in kidnapping cases — where the goal is to interrupt the kidnapping and possible murder of the victim — the rules and regulations require that investigators act with [speed], even if such actions puts them at risk," according to Ahlers.

Two months after the trial board hearing, McLarney, Ellsworth's commander and a 35-year veteran, was terminated for undisclosed reasons and reinstated as a lieutenant on the midnight shift in the Northwest District.

Ahlers said Ellsworth was "damned if he did and damned if he didn't," "caught between competing supervisors and egos."

Ellsworth regained police powers a short time later, though Brickus declined to return his gun, "and so for a short time Ellsworth continued his investigation and attempted apprehension of a kidnapper without a firearm," Ahlers wrote in court papers.

Redd testified that patrol officers were in control of the situation, according to the court papers, and that Ellsworth was not supposed to take over.

After a three-day hearing, Ellsworth was found guilty on May 19, 2011, of "conduct unbecoming" and being "disrespectful to a superior."

Redd would be indicted in July following a long-term wiretap investigation into his alleged role in a heroin conspiracy, including accusations that he dealt drugs in the parking lot of the Northwest District police station.

That case would also ensnare the head of internal investigations, Maj. Nathan Warfield, who was not charged in the drug case but was transferred after photos surfaced of him socializing with Redd.

Sakels said he wasn't sure whether anyone beyond Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III knew about the allegations. "Just because the commissioner knows about it doesn't mean the whole department does," Sakels told Miller. "If the prosecutor knew, I'm sure he wouldn't have called him."

He also countered that Redd wasn't integral to the case and said the department could retry it without Redd's testimony.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

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