Judge rebukes Baltimore police, says she won't send convicted lieutenant to prison

Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn gave a sharp rebuke to the Baltimore Police Department on Wednesday and ruled that she would not imprison a lieutenant convicted of theft and misconduct.

Phinn said the department had turned a blind eye to the comings and goings of Steven Bagshaw, 45. She said police chose to make an example of him only after scandal emerged with the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force.

“I don’t think the Baltimore City Police Department has clean hands,” she told the court. “He was put in a bad situation.”

Prosecutors had asked the judge to imprison Bagshaw for one year and six months. But Phinn threw out both convictions and handed down probation before judgment.

“It’s an awful thing to be branded a thief,” she said. “He’s been punished enough.”

A burly, bearded man, Bagshaw cried. He declined to comment afterward.

Baltimore police did not immediately return a message seeking comment Wednesday, and a spokesman for the mayor declined to comment. Lt. Gene Ryan, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said he was not deeply familiar with the case, but said of Bagshaw, “He got his day in court.”

One juror who convicted Bagshaw said Wednesday he was satisfied the lieutenant would not spend one night behind bars.

“We never dreamed that he would actually get jail time and would have been mortified if he did,” Billy Ford said.

When Horseshoe Casino Baltimore opened nearly four years ago, the department formed a unit to police the area. Instead of staffing the new unit with a captain, Bagshaw oversaw it.

At the time, “Nobody is paying attention to him,” Phinn said.

Seven officers from the Gun Trace Task Force were indicted in February 2017 on federal racketeering charges, accused of robbing drug dealers and getting paid for overtime they didn’t work. An eighth officer would also be indicted. Police said they received an anonymous letter about a month later that Bagshaw was also collecting overtime while home on the Eastern Shore.

Investigators tracked Bagshaw for about six weeks last year and said he was paid more than $8,000 for hours he never worked. A jury found Bagshaw guilty in March of theft and misconduct in office.

Phinn drew a distinction between Bagshaw and members of the Gun Trace Task Force.

“This man was not one of those officers,” she said.

Still, his prosecution came after police officials vowed to root out overtime fraud in the wake of the federal indictments. Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa has pledged to reform the system of overtime pay, saying he would form a new unit to curb the fraud. Police also announced plans for new fingerprint scanners to track the comings and goings of officers.

Overtime spending has soared in recent years. City officials had budgeted $16 million for police overtime in the fiscal year that ends next month, but the actual spending has more than doubled that amount. Mayor Catherine E. Pugh has ordered an audit of overtime pay.

At one point, investigators observed Bagshaw at his home on the Eastern Shore using a department vehicle that he was not authorized to take home, according to court records.

Using license plate-reading records and GPS technology, police monitored Bagshaw and determined he would "routinely report to work many hours late and/or leave many hours early, sometimes missing entire regular hour shifts or entire overtime shifts."

About $1,400 of the $8,000 Bagshaw received during the investigation was paid by the Horseshoe Casino, according to court records. The city bills Horseshoe for officers who work the casino district.

Jurors acquitted Bagshaw of a third count of unauthorized use of an official vehicle.

A 21-year veteran of the force, Bagshaw earned $169,000 last fiscal year with a base salary of $106,000.

Prosecutors told the judge that his overtime theft was “unconscionable,” considering the scandal of the Gun Trace Task Force.

“At the heart of this is a showing of lack of integrity,” Assistant State’s Attorney Staceyann Llewellyn told the judge Wednesday.

Bagshaw, his wife and attorney all pleaded with the judge for home detention. He told Phinn that he has lost his career, his pension, and the faith of his fellow officers — whom he called his family.

“I’ve had to explain to my children why my name is in the news,” he told the judge.

He asked for home detention so he could continue to help raise his three young children, work in a restaurant and take courses at Salisbury University.

“I want nothing more than to support my family,” he said.

Even Bagshaw’s attorney, Chaz Ball, told the judge he wouldn’t go so far as to ask for probation before judgment.

Then Phinn surprised the courtroom, saying she would not sentence Bagshaw to any time at all. She threw out the convictions and gave him probation before judgment.

Prosecutors had also asked Bagshaw to repay the $8,000.

“I’m sorry. Is there no restitution?” Llewellyn asked the judge.

“If the police department wants their $8,000,” Phinn said, “let them ask for it.”

 

tprudente@baltsun.com

twitter.com/Tim_Prudente

This article has been updated. An earlier version misstated the prison sentence sought by prosecutors.

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