Police seized a loaded handgun, a bag of ammunition and drug paraphernalia, including packaging material and a scale, during a search of University of Maryland football player Wes Brown's campus apartment last summer, newly released documents show.
Brown was suspended last year, and university officials tied the move to an incident in which he allegedly shoved a Baltimore police officer who visited the College Park campus as part of a shooting investigation. But Brown's connection to crimes under investigation turned out to be more extensive.
According to court documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun, Brown told police that he drove the shooter away from the scene last June. Continued investigation led to the .22-caliber pistol and a court order to track his cellphone. A search warrant affidavit released Wednesday showed police also found ammunition and drug paraphernalia.
Brown, 20, has not been charged in connection with the nonfatal shooting or the items seized from his room, and assault charges stemming from the confrontation with the Baltimore detective have been dropped. Prince George's County prosecutors, who signed off on the warrant, now say it should not have been approved and call the investigation flawed.
A top running back on the team, Brown was suspended in early August and missed the 2013 season. He has returned to school and is again practicing with the team after fulfilling certain criteria, including completing community service.
Sam Zwerling, president of College Park's Student Government Association, questioned the university's handling of Brown's discipline. "The university has done a really good job of balancing the needs of all students with the needs of athletics, but this is really concerning," she said.
She wondered whether other students would have been expelled for having a gun and drug paraphernalia in campus housing. Brown lived in the South Campus Commons, which are like apartments with private rooms for students who share a common space.
"I can't imagine that they would stay in the apartments, much less stay in school," Zwerling said.
The university has declined to answer questions, citing privacy guidelines. In a statement, officials said the university had conducted a "thorough investigation in cooperation with law enforcement" that resulted in the suspension. They said Brown has met the criteria for reinstatement.
William E. "Brit" Kirwin, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said through a spokesman that the system had "every confidence in the very thorough investigation conducted by the university in cooperation with law enforcement officials and in the university's application of the guidelines in the Code of Student Conduct."
The student conduct code prohibits unauthorized use, possession or storage of any weapon, with penalties ranging from having to do research projects or being denied on-campus housing, to expulsion. The code also prohibits drug use and distribution, though it does not address paraphernalia.
Andrea Goodwin, director of the campus' Office of Student Conduct, said the university does not have automatic sanctions for violations and that cases are evaluated on individual circumstances.
County prosecutors determined that Brown had been resisting an "unlawful" arrest when he allegedly shoved the detective and took off on foot. In the search warrant application, police wrote that they concocted the ruse of a hit-and-run investigation as the basis for seeking to bring Brown to Baltimore for questioning. The search of his dorm, where he lived with three other football players, occurred the next day.
Jason A. Shapiro, Brown's attorney, said police abused their authority and prosecutors were right not to pursue charges. He called the outcome "just."
"I've said all along: The stopping of my client was unconstitutional, the seizing of my client was unconstitutional, and anything they received as a result of those unconstitutional detentions — the fruit of a poisonous tree — should be excluded," Shapiro said Wednesday.
He said prosecutors too often allow such cases to go forward, and praised Prince George's County prosecutors for having the fortitude to "not just pursue convictions but to pursue justice."
Rather than a hit-and-run, Baltimore police were investigating a shooting that became part of a wide-ranging case against the Black Guerrilla Family gang in the city. According to documents in that case, the shooting occurred June 8 after a fight outside a downtown club and the gunman had emerged from a vehicle that fled after the shooting.
The search warrant application provides added detail, with an account from a witness who saw the gunman standing outside the vehicle when he reached into the passenger side to grab a gun. The gunman fired at least one shot, then got into the car, which left the scene slowly, police wrote.
When talking with police after his arrest in connection with the assault charges, Brown told investigators he was the driver, according to the court documents.
University of Maryland police have declined to disclose any documents related to the investigation, but the search warrant application released by prosecutors indicates that a university police detective sought the warrant in conjunction with Baltimore police.
The warrant was reviewed by Assistant State's Attorney Renee Battle-Brooks and was signed by Prince George's Circuit Judge Sherrie Krauser, who is now retired and could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The warrant return shows police found a .22-caliber revolver with no serial number that was loaded with three rounds, a plastic bag with 15 rounds of .380-caliber ammunition, a "scale with suspected [drug] residue" and drug "packaging material." Police also took two iPads and a MacBook Pro. Police wrote that a firearms target was hanging on the wall and also was taken.
John Erzen, a spokesman for the Prince George's County state's attorney's office, said prosecutors approved the warrant. But he said they later concluded that the information in the search warrant application — which only mentioned that Brown's vehicle was believed to have been involved in a shooting — did not constitute the probable cause needed to search his dorm.
Erzen also noted that city police were looking for a shooting suspect believed to be 5 feet 7 to 5 feet 9 and 135 to 155 pounds. Brown, he said, is about 6 feet and 210 pounds.
Erzen called his office's approval of the warrant a "mistake."
"Just because his vehicle was supposedly at the shooting, that's not enough probable cause to search his residence," Erzen said. "It should not have been signed off on. That's something we dealt with internally."
He said the decision not to pursue the case was "disappointing," given that Brown could have faced charges for illegal possession of a handgun because he was under 21 years old. But Erzen said prosecutors "have a responsibility to be ethical and protect people from prosecution that is unwarranted."
In the Black Guerrilla Family case, 48 alleged gang members and associates were charged in November. Among those charged is Brown's half brother, Wesley Jamal Brown. The Maryland running back's full name is Wesley Jerel Brown.
Connie Dancel, whose family took in Wesley Jerel Brown when he played football at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, said he did not know his half brother until they met at a family funeral in 2013. She has said Wesley Jerel Brown's troubles stemmed from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Police say the shooting occurred outside a birthday party at the Mirage nightclub June 8 for Wesley Jamal Brown and an alleged gang leader named Gerald Johnson. Montel Harvey, 22, has been charged in the BGF case with being the shooter who left the scene in Brown's vehicle.
Attorneys for Wesley Jamal Brown and for Harvey deny the allegations.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun