Detective suspended in rogue search for missing daughter

Baltimore Police Homicide Detective Daniel T. Nicholson
Baltimore Police Homicide Detective Daniel T. Nicholson (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun)

A Baltimore police detective who was thrust into the national spotlight while leading the investigation into a teenager who disappeared has been suspended after authorities said he allegedly went on a rogue hunt for his own missing daughter.

Law enforcement sources — one within the city police department, another affiliated with police who has information on the case — said Tuesday that investigators are probing allegations that detective Daniel Thomas Nicholson IV used his badge while off duty to gain entry to homes in an unauthorized search.

Baltimore County officials, meanwhile, said they are taking another look at an earlier assault case involving the detective and the 15-year-old daughter.

A county police report says the girl had left the family home in the Gwynn Oak community on Friday without money or her cell phone due to a dispute over "her grades and her activity in some social networks." She was found safe on Monday.

The investigation into Nicholson stems from actions over the weekend. The police source said that occupants of a house in Northeast Baltimore filed a complaint over a raid and that one man picked the detective out of a lineup.

The detective could not be reached for comment, and his union attorney, Michael Davey, declined to comment.

A city police spokesman confirmed that Nicholson, 40, is the subject of an internal review and an investigation by prosecutors, but declined to comment on the details. "We are taking the complaint extremely seriously," said spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

Nicholson, an 18-year veteran assigned to the homicide unit, was the lead detective in the Phylicia Barnes case. She was a 16-year-old honors student from North Carolina who was visiting her half-sister in Baltimore when she disappeared in December 2010.

For months, city police pleaded for help in the case, set up a task force of six detectives and repeatedly went on national television to discuss the investigation. Her body was found last year in the Susquehanna River, and the death ruled a homicide.

But no arrests have been made, and the case, turned over to Maryland State Police, continues to baffle detectives. Nicholson remains part of the multi-jurisdictional task force investigating the case. City police called the search among the most extensive in department history.

A month after Barnes disappeared, Nicholson said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun that he talked with Barnes' father every day and that, as the father of two daughters, he couldn't understand how a teenager "vanished from the face of the earth."

In the interview, Nicholson called the Barnes case "frustrating in that we've run out every lead, no matter how ridiculous or impossible it might seem." His biggest fear, he said at the time, is that "it's not going to be a happy ending."

Now, Nicholson's own relationship with one of his daughters is in the spotlight. Court documents and police reports show a troubled family history.

In September, county police charged Nicholson with second-degree assault after a dispute with the teenager. Prosecutors dropped the charge on the condition that the entire family attend a mediation program, Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger said Tuesday.

Shellenberger said that all indications were "things were going very well." But in light of the new allegations that surfaced in the city, he said, "we are re-evaluating the entire case." He described the alleged assault as "an issue of discipline that may have stepped out of bounds."

More problems ensued on Friday. County police said the teen ran away from home about 12:30 a.m. that day. City police later issued a news release with her name and photograph, but did not note that she was the daughter of a homicide detective.

"Parent Nicholson advised that his daughter had left home," the county police report says. "Child Nicholson had a disagreement with her parents in reference to her grades and her activity on some social networks."

The report says that county police made contact with a city youth who is friends with the girl. Detectives went to his home on Fern Hill Avenue, and then found him at City Neighbors High School near Hamilton in Northeast Baltimore. He was not with the detective's daughter, the report says.

In the police report, the county officer noted that Nicholson "works for the Baltimore City government" and "will be able to expedite" and get "resources needed from the city and contact us with any new information."

Elise Armacost, a spokeswoman for the county police department, said the girl contacted authorities on Monday and told them she was safe. Armacost said detectives interviewed her and that the Department of Social Services is handling the case.



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