Police: Baltimore firefighter ran sex ring on the side
By KEVIN RECTOR and The Baltimore Sun
Aug 09, 2012 | 7:52 PM
Until last month, 29-year-old Jamar Simmons was living a double life, police say.
He fought fires for Baltimore out of a decades-old brick firehouse in Hampden, earning close to $60,000 annually.
He also managed a prostitution ring out of a renovated apartment in Carrollton Ridge in Southwest Baltimore, court documents say, pocketing a percentage of the cash earned by a group of women selling sex.
On July 9, police raided the apartment and arrested Simmons and his alleged partner in the operation. Soon after, Simmons was suspended from the Fire Department without pay, and the fact he was facing multiple prostitution-related charges for a second time sparked questions about city personnel policies.
The city recently revised its proceduresfor handling employees who are charged with crimes, after discovering that it had paid nearly $13,000 for sick leave to an employee in jail. But even under the new policy, an arrest or conviction does not always lead to termination.
Meanwhile, as Simmons maintains his innocence,the Fire Department plans to conduct its own investigation into his behavior. "We operate like a paramilitary organization," said Chief Kevin Cartwright, a city Fire Department spokesman. "The same conduct and behavior is expected of all of us, whether we are in uniform or out of uniform."
Simmons' attorney, Warren Brown, said the very public fallout from the case has unfairly left the firefighter distraught and uncertain of his future.
"I guess in a perfect world, public servants shouldn't have brushes with the law, but they do," Brown said. "So the question becomes, 'Is it a zero tolerance policy?' If you're hauled before a court, you're not worthy of employment? I don't think that should be the case."
City officials said many factors, including the extent to which an employee is deemed to have broken the public trust, are considered in disciplinarydecisions. Supervisors also look closely at the evidence against employees who've been arrested, the officials say.
Inside the raided apartment, according to court records, city police found a stage with two floor-to-ceiling poles, a large bar with a DJ booth, two bedrooms and a kitchen with six lockers labeled with women's nicknames.
In one room, court records say, police found a chalkboard with written reminders to the women. Among them: do not mention sex for money on the phone, always search clients for police wires and tout the location of the third-story, loft-style apartment in the 200 block of S. Pulaski Street as being just 10 minutes from downtown.
"Ask about law enforcement!" the board warned, according to court records.
Police say the loft housed a prostitution ring that Simmons and 33-year-old Franklin Coit — a pair arrested in Baltimore County in 2010 on similar prostitution charges — had built with the help of some 25 women over the past couple of years.
The men managed the operation, advertised sexual services on websites associated with prostitution, and took a substantial cut of the money the women made having sex with clients in the apartment and elsewhere, the court records say.
Simmons faces 11 charges, including eight related to operating a prostitution business and two related to suspected marijuana and a pipe found in the apartment. Coit faces similar charges, plus two gun charges.
Brown said the loft was not a hub for prostitution, as depicted in court records. The claim that his client was acting as a "pimp" is unfounded, and the apartment was simply a "clubhouse" where Simmons and his friends gathered to "relax and entertain" late at night, he said.
"It's not unlike a lot of situations around the city," Brown said. "After hours, once the bars close down at 2 [a.m.], these people still got a lot of energy, and they're looking for things to do, places to go, eat, smoke, drink and be merry."
Brown said police have no evidence that Simmons accepted cash from women as part of a prostitution ring. And he suspects the police probe was spurred in part by the charges brought against his client in 2010.
Coit is in police custody and does not have an attorney listed in his case.
In the 2010 case, Simmons and Coit were arrested after dropping a woman off at a Red Roof Inn in Timonium for an arranged sexual encounter with an undercover police officer, according to court records.
After she'd entered the room and briefly chatted with the undercover officer, the woman, who was wearing earphones attached to her cell phone, reportedly said, "I'm in and OK," on a call to Simmons and Coit, who were waiting outside in a car, according to the records.
At the time of the arrest, the records state, Simmons told investigators that he was "down on his luck after being suspended from his job as a Baltimore City Firefighter, so he decided to recruit women from the Internet and transport them to and from their meetings with [prospective] clients."
Cartwright said he could not comment on Simmons' standing in the department before the 2010 arrest, or whether he was reprimanded following the initial charges.
Simmons was granted probation before judgment on a single prostitution charge in that case and was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation and a $300 fine. All charges against Coit in that case were dropped.
Neither Cartwright nor City Solicitor George Nilson could provide statistics on how many employees face criminal charges each year, though with the city workforce numbering in the thousands, arrests of employees are not unheard of.
For example, 16 police officers were recently convicted in a kickback scheme in which the officers directed accident victims to the Majestic Auto Repair shop in Rosedale. And last year, a number of transportation department employees were arrested on gambling charges, though only one had been convicted as of earlier this year.
Brown said that if someone "combed through the records of all city agencies," there would be many cases of employees being charged with misdemeanor offenses. But the most important factor in terms of Simmons' employment with the Fire Department, Brown said, is that he "can put the damn fire out."
Aside from police and fire employees, who are subject to policies specific to their departments, all city employees who are arrested must follow the same protocol, one outlined this year by a task force assigned to address the issue by MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blake, Nilson said.
Nilson said the task force was convened after city officials discovered in 2010 that a Department of Public Works employee had been paid nearly $13,000 for sick leave while — unbeknownst to them — serving an eight-month sentence for a sex offense.
The new city policy, put into practice in the last few months, requires an arrested employee to notify his or her supervisor of the charges, and the supervisor to notify the agency's human resources officer. The supervisor has discretion in making a disciplinary decision, Nilson said.
Guidelines say the employee can be temporarily assigned to other duties, or be suspended with or without pay, based on the seriousness of the criminal charge and factors such as the employee's past record and the relationship of the offense to job duties. If convicted, the same considerations will be used in determining the outcome, which could include termination, the guidelines say.
The Fire Department's policy is similar, Cartwright said.
The fire chief can allow an employee who is arrested to continue to perform departmental duties, transfer the employee to administrative duties, or suspend the employee without pay pending the resolution of the charges, as Simmons was.
Department guidelines for fire employees convicted of a first misdemeanor provide for discretion in deciding between a suspension or termination. A second misdemeanor conviction, or a first felony conviction, calls for the employee to be terminated, the guidelines say.
The fact that Simmons, who had an otherwise clean record, remained employed with the Fire Department following his probation before judgment on the misdemeanor charge in 2010 fits within those guidelines.
Cartwright said the department's internal probe into Simmons' conduct will not necessarily follow the same standards of evidence used in a criminal court. Simmons could be found innocent of all the criminal charges he faces and still be disciplined by the department, Cartwright said.
Byron Warnken, a criminal law professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law who has served as general counsel for the Maryland Troopers Association for the last 15 years, said government agencies have wide latitude to take administrative action against employees who are arrested — even if they aren't convicted.
Warnken said the standard used in administrative cases is generally the same as in civil cases: a preponderance of evidence. For a criminal conviction, a person must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a stricter standard, Warnken said.
Baltimore firefighters union president Rick Hoffman declined to comment on Simmons' case, but said criminal cases against firefighters generally must play out before the department can take permanent disciplinary action.
Brown said Simmons hopes to be found not guilty on all charges and "get back to doing what he loves doing, which is being a member of the Fire Department."