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Baltimore Crime Beat

Off-duty officer tries to break into home in search of drugs, police say

A veteran Baltimore County police officer was suspended this week and faces several criminal charges after the department said he tried to break into a Dundalk home in search of drugs.

Officer Joseph Stanley Harden, 31, of Towson told investigators he became addicted to Oxycodone after a work-related injury. He was charged late Thursday with attempted burglary, drug possession, attempted robbery and malicious destruction of property. The department said he has been suspended without pay. His police powers also have been suspended.

Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson said in a statement that he was "deeply troubled" by the incident.

"This department does not tolerate criminal conduct among its members, and this officer will face due process for what he has done," Johnson said.

Baltimore County police said a man called 911 on Tuesday night saying someone claiming to be a police officer was trying to kick in the door of his house in the 8200 block of N. Boundary Road. Officers who arrived found no one but saw a rear window was open and a screen missing. Bags containing suspected marijuana were found inside the house, police said.

Harden and another man, Stephen Gomez of Dundalk, were stopped that night by a patrolman for speeding, police said. Harden, who displayed his Baltimore County police badge, matched the description of the man who attempted to break into the house, police said.

Gomez sold Oxycodone to Harden several times, and the two have known each other for several months, according to investigators. Sean McKelvin, owner of the house where the alleged break-in took place, has not been charged in the case.

No one answered the door at McKelvin's apartment Friday morning. A man answered the phone number used to call 911 but declined to comment.

Gomez told police that on Tuesday he bought Oxycodone for Harden from McKelvin on Boundary Road, but that in less than an hour, Harden wanted more pills.

Harden and Gomez went back to the house, where Harden attempted to break in, police said. McKelvin told police he fled through the rear window in fear.

Police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said detectives don't think Harden and Gomez met through Harden's police work, noting that Harden's precinct does not cover the area where Gomez lives.

Gomez — who has a prior criminal record — said he didn't realize initially that Harden was a police officer.

Harden told police that he "got hooked up with a bad guy" and that they went to McKelvin's place to try to get him to hand over his stash. Harden said he knocked on the door, kicked it and then left.

Harden was arrested at his home Thursday morning. Court records show his annual salary is $72,000.

Harden told police he became addicted to Oxycodone within the past two years after undergoing surgery for an injury suffered on the job. Armacost said that "he has been on modified duty as a result of an injury sustained in the June 2013 shooting."

In that shooting, Harden and other officers attempted to arrest a man outside the Colony Hotel on Pulaski Highway after police said the man tried to run over a woman with a motor scooter.

According to police, the man then fought officers, removing an officer's gun from her holster, when Harden shot him. The shooting was deemed justified by the department and the state's attorney's office.

Johnson said he "cannot help but be saddened by another troubling case of prescription medication abuse."

"This problem is pervasive in our society, and unfortunately no institution is immune to it," he said. "We hope that this officer and everyone struggling with addiction seeks and receives treatment."

Last month, Baltimore County police charged Nicholas Ishmael, a cadet, after police said he stole more than $125,000 worth of Oxycodone and other items from the evidence vault at the department's headquarters. In that case, police said Ishmael was selling the drugs to others.

Harden was released on $100,000 bail and faces a preliminary hearing later this month. Gomez was charged with attempted burglary, robbery, and other related charges.

Neither Harden nor Gomez has an attorney listed in court records.

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