A Baltimore judge granted a new trial Friday to a man who had pleaded guilty to a gun charge last year, after his attorney raised questions about the criminal indictment of the officers who arrested him.
State prosecutors then dropped the gun possession charge against Quinton McNeil, 22, who was in the middle of serving a 90-day jail sentence imposed in January, according to court records and Baltimore Deputy Public Defender Natalie Finegar, who represented McNeil in court Friday.
McNeil was immediately set free, Finegar said. He could not be reached for comment.
Federal prosecutors filed racketeering charges last month against Detectives Maurice Ward and Marcus Taylor and five other officers, all members of an elite gun task force. They alleged that the officers shook down and robbed residents, filed false paperwork in court and fraudulently claimed overtime. The officers have pleaded not guilty.
While several pending criminal cases based on arrests by the indicted officers have been dropped in recent days, Finegar said McNeil was her office's first client to be granted a new trial after a guilty plea or conviction.
He likely won't be the last, she said, because the indictments threw into question the validity of all of the officers' previous arrests.
"I'm hopeful that we are going to be able to undo some more of the guilty findings that happened and sentences that were imposed, based on this," Finegar said. "We are poring through our records now."
Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby's office said last week that it was also reviewing convictions in adjudicated cases stemming from arrests made by the indicted officers.
Melba Saunders, a spokeswoman for Mosby's office, said Friday that the decision to drop the charge against McNeil was made because the case "relied solely upon the testimony of the now indicted officers," and prosecutors "were unable to identify any independent corroborating evidence to support this conviction."
Therefore, as a matter of "justice and fairness," prosecutors "proactively coordinated" with Finegar's office "to ensure Mr. McNeil had proper defense representation and worked to vacate his conviction in a timely fashion," Saunders said in a statement.
Finegar said Assistant Public Defender John Baber had filed for a retrial in McNeil's case as soon as he saw that Ward and Taylor were among the indicted officers.
According to an initial police report, McNeil was arrested Aug. 24 about 6:40 p.m. in the 300 block of E. Belvedere Ave. after officers on patrol "drove past a parked Honda Accord that several people were smoking marijuana in" and "observed the rear passenger remove a black plastic bag from between his legs, and place that bag inside the rear arm rest."
Police said they recovered a black ski mask and a loaded .357-caliber handgun from the bag, as well as a loaded 9mm handgun and suspected cocaine and marijuana from the car. They arrested McNeil, who they said was prohibited from possessing a firearm.
McNeil pleaded guilty to a single gun charge in November, but a judge struck the guilty finding the next month and granted McNeil probation before judgment. As part of that deal, McNeil was to serve 90 days in jail and serve three years of probation.