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Controversial Baltimore Police officer banned from city courthouse

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, second from right, shows her Orioles sweatshirt off to Baltimore Police officer Fabien Laronde, right while walking around downtown Baltimore Friday, May 19, 2012.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, second from right, shows her Orioles sweatshirt off to Baltimore Police officer Fabien Laronde, right while walking around downtown Baltimore Friday, May 19, 2012. (Steve Ruark)

A Baltimore Police officer has been banned from the city courthouses after an incident last month in which he was caught filming a witness and a television reporter in a courthouse hallway, the city sheriff's office confirmed.

The incident is the latest trouble for Officer Fabien Laronde, who has been the subject of numerous complaints and lawsuits. A group of defense attorneys met Wednesday to begin an organized push to access his internal affairs file, which was turned over to one public defender but remains under seal.

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"This officer is notorious," said assistant public defender Deborah Levi, who has the officer's file. "I have had hundreds of clients complaint to me that he stole money when he arrested them, that he plants evidence and was disrespectful and dehumanizing."

Laronde could not be reached for comment. The Baltimore Police Department said he remains suspended, in connection with an off-duty incident in October.

Laronde got in his latest trouble with the sheriff's office during a Nov. 30 hearing over his internal affairs file.

Levi, representing a man charged in a drug case, had called a witness from one of Laronde's internal affairs complaints to testify about the officer's credibility.

WBAL reporter Jayne Miller, who has been reporting on Laronde, alerted courthouse security that Laronde was filming her and the witness in the hallway, and a deputy asked Laronde if he was taking pictures, according to a police report.

Laronde allegedly said, "No, I am videoing," which is also prohibited inside of the courthouse, according to the report.

The court case witness told deputies that he overheard Laronde say, "I'm gonna get him hit," which the witness said he believed meant that Laronde would have him killed, according to the report. Deputies said they did not hear the comment, but classified the incident report as an "assault by threat."

Levi said the witness had reluctantly come to court after expressing concerns about retaliation. The witness said a police car had been outside of his house for unknown reasons over the previous several days before his testimony.

"The one witness brave enough to come in gets threatened by him in the courthouse," Levi said in an interview.

Laronde's phone was seized and taken into evidence and the sheriff's office banned Laronde from the courthouses. The investigation was referred to the Baltimore County State's Attorney's Office, which said it is still investigating the case.

Prosecutors that afternoon dropped the drug case that the hearing was about, but are continuing with other cases in which Laronde is a witness. Records show he is listed as a police witness in more than 20 drug and firearms cases pending in Circuit Court.

A spokeswoman did not return seeking calls for comment about how prosecutors will call Laronde to testify when he is banned from the courthouse.

Laronde has been sued several times for on-duty incidents. In 2012, the city paid $155,000 to settle a case involving Laronde and two other officers in which a man said the officers illegally searched his car and strip searched him for drugs.

Also that year, a civil jury awarded a man $40,000 for an incident in which Laronde and another officer were accused of accosting a civil records clerk in the courthouse, accusing him of being a gang member and taking his picture. A supervisor in the records office intervened.

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In July 2013, the city paid $1,500 to a man who alleged that Laronde stole $770 from him during a 2011 arrest, records show.

In October, Laronde was suspended with pay after an incident in a convenience store, though police declined to explain what type of incident occurred.

Internal affairs files are generally sealed and inaccessible to the public in Maryland, but attorneys have been able to obtain such files under seal for review and can petition a judge that certain information is relevant to the credibility of the officers.

"One judge has delivered [Laronde's] internal affairs file to me, while most of the other judges deny any access at all, while some are granting partial access," Levi said.

Levi said attorneys are "organizing our approach" to making the contents of Laronde's internal affairs file open to other attorneys. "They're withholding information that we are entitled to on this particular officer," she said.

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