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Mayor addresses Baltimore police misconduct allegations

Drug TraffickingJustice SystemFBIStephanie Rawlings-BlakeJohns Hopkins University

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, reacting Wednesday to news of a third city police officer suspended amid a criminal probe within a week, said officials deserve credit for taking action.

Harford County State's Attorney Joseph Cassilly confirmed that Baltimore Officer Roberto Santiago is being investigated by the county's Child Advocacy Center, a case that comes on the heels of Officer Elliott Simon's suspension as police investigate a sexual misconduct accusation involving an 18-year-old woman.

And last week, the department suspended a plainclothes officer after being informed that he was under investigation by the FBI. He has not been named. Only Simon's suspension was announced by the department.

"I'm very proud of the prompt action taken by my commissioner," Rawlings-Blake said at a news conference after Wednesday's Board of Estimates meeting. "The officers put their lives on the line every single day and deserve to work alongside officers with integrity. ... We're going to continue to root out bad actors in the city. People work too hard for city employees to abuse the city's trust."

While circumstances surrounding the officer suspensions were largely unclear Wednesday, they come at a time when prosecutors have also recently charged several officers in connection with misconduct investigations. Officials say that they want the public to recognize that they are taking action.

Detective Adam Lewellen was charged with perjury and misconduct after prosecutors and internal affairs investigators alleged that he lied on a search warrant to raid a Canton man's home. Sgt. Marinos Gialamas and Officer Anthony Williams were charged with assault and other charges related to an alleged beating of a man in police custody.

Activists are also awaiting word on what prosecutors will do in a case in which an East Baltimore man was killed during a drug arrest. The medical examiner has ruled his death a homicide after he suffered broken bones.

Compared to last year, when 50 officers were implicated in a kickback scandal and a veteran officer was charged with dealing drugs from his police station — the latter case led to the ouster of the department's internal affairs chief — the current cases are unrelated and largely isolated.

But Rawlings-Blake said her administration said the agency can't tolerate any misconduct. She said it was "not my style" to have cases "go for weeks or even years without talking about any incident because you're hiding it."

The Sun last week reported that nearly two years after 31 officers were implicated in a broad kickback scandal involving a Rosedale body shop, the 14 officers who were suspended but not charged remain suspended with pay. No progress has been made on whether they will face internal charges, a process that in itself can take years to play out.

Police say they are waiting on word from prosecutors whether the officers will face criminal charges, a common practice in Maryland. But it's not written in the law that one process must run its course before the other can begin, experts say, urging the department to move more quickly to address allegations of misconduct.

The city police union, meanwhile, issued a report earlier this year that it called a "blueprint for improved policing" that calls for the department to improve background checks and "no longer accept marginal candidates as seen in the various corruption scandals of late."

Robert F. Cherry, the president of the union, says that he believes the agency can afford to have fewer officers if they are better paid and better deployed. He's pushing for minimum education or military service requirements, and wants the Police Department to reinstate a college tuition reimbursement program.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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