It was a dead rat the detective found on his windshield of his Toyota Corolla on a fall morning, the corpse peeking out from under the windshield wiper — a sign, he thought, that his colleagues in the department saw him as a snitch.
Detective Joseph Crystal had been in contact with prosecutors who eventually filed charges against his sergeant and another officer in connection with the beating of a drug suspect. The rat appeared a few weeks later.
Mark Cheshire, a spokesman for State's Attorney's Gregg L. Bernstein, said that prosecutors and police investigated the incident as an act of witness intimidation but could not determine who was behind it.
Attorneys for the two officers — whom a Baltimore jury convicted last week — said their clients had nothing to do with the rat.
Sgt. Marinos Gialamas was found guilty of misconduct, while Officer Anthony Williams was convicted of assault and obstruction of justice, after he asked his girlfriend, Nakishia Epps, to lie to internal affairs investigators.
Police spokesman J. Eric Kowalczyk had no specific comment on the incident, but said the department remains "committed to rooting out corruption."
"Our obligation is to protect neighborhoods with officers of the highest ethical standards," he said.
The case developed out of an October 2011 drug arrest gone awry. Officers saw a man named Antoine Green throw away what they suspected to be drugs and tried to chase him, but lost him in an alleyway near the 2200 block of Prentiss Place.
As he fled police, Green broke into a home that backed onto the alley, thinking it was vacant, prosecutors said. Instead, he had actually kicked in the door to the home of a police officer's girlfriend.
She called the police — and Williams. Green was arrested at the home after a struggle with an officer who found him in the basement.
After he was handcuffed and put in a wagon to be taken away, police brought Green back into the house — so the woman could identify him, according to the defense, or so that he could apologize — and it was then that Williams, who was off duty, beat him.
Green was quickly charged with breaking into the home and drug offenses. Word of the potential misconduct by police only reached the state's attorney's office through back channels, according to arguments ahead of the officers' trial, after Crystal contacted a prosecutor he knew.
But Crystal called police in Baltimore County as soon as he found the rat and quickly drew a connection to the investigation.
"Crystal told this officer that officers within the Baltimore City Police Department are not happy with him right now," a Baltimore County officer wrote in a report describing the November 2012 incident.
The county officer inspected Crystal's car and wrote: "The dead rat was on the passenger side portion of the windshield with its head underneath the windshield wiper."
Donald Daneman, the attorney who represented Williams, said that while many people feel the instinct to close ranks when they are accused of doing something wrong, he did not find Crystal's testimony about the case and his worries to be credible.
"I don't think anybody in their right mind is going to retaliate against him," Daneman said.
Had his client been in any way connected with the incident, Daneman said, prosecutors would have filed charges in search of a high-profile win against the Police Department.
"Mr. Bernstein would love to jump on that case," he said.