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Activist irate at rumor that she's a police 'snitch' Officer admits remark was an error


Ann M. Nichols has been an activist for decades in her West Baltimore neighborhood. She is president of the local neighborhood association, has set up reading and day-care programs for children and is a crusader against drugs and crime.

But lately, her neighbors want nothing to do with her.

The reason?

She says a city police officer mistakenly named her as a "snitch," causing people in her neighborhood, where she raised two children and spent 44 years of her life, to shun her.

Mrs. Nichols, a 65-year-old widow, said she wants a public apology so that her life can return to normal.

"I'm used to going out of my house with a smile and a wave," she said. "Now all I get is cold stares."

Mrs. Nichols said many of her neighbors refused to attend a community meeting she held this week.

"Normally that school would be packed," she said. The problem started May 17 when someone called the police to report that a U- Haul truck was illegally parked in the 2000 block of Pulaski St. with four dirt bikes in the rear.

After being confronted by the officer, the driver asked who might have contacted police.

The veteran officer -- whom police refused to identify -- replied that it might have been Mrs. Nichols, because she is active in the area.

In so doing, the officer broke an unwritten rule about not divulging names of people who call the department, police said.

Capt. Martin L. Beauchamp of the Western District said the officer "should have had better sense.

"That was a flagrant violation on his part. No ifs, ands or buts, he screwed up," Captain Beauchamp said.

Still, the fallout from the incident is perplexing, he said.

"This whole thing has been blown out of proportion. This was a minor call. He [the driver] was not unhappy with the police service," Captain Beauchamp said. "If she can just get past this little glitch. . . . The officer has apologized, and he has been counseled."

The incident was especially regrettable because Mrs. Nichols has proved herself to be a friend of the police, Captain Beauchamp said.

Mrs. Nichols has helped set up the Blue Light Program, in which residents display blue lights to show their support of police.

"She is a regular ball of fire," Captain Beauchamp said. "She is also an excellent cook."

Police said she takes food to the officers working in the Western District, particularly on holidays.

And although she took some hot dogs to the station house Thursday, her attitude is not yet one of forgive and forget.

She wants to see the officer punished.

"I work very hard. I didn't think anyone would do that to me," she said.

"I've been hurt deeply. I never cried as hard as I did. The way it is now, I'm scared to call 911 for anything.

"I want people to know that Ann Nichols is completely innocent of this. I am not a snitch. I want them to smile and wave back at me," she said.

Who was it then who called police?

"It was me," said William E. Roberts of the 2000 block of Walbrook Ave.

"I called 911 and asked them to check out the dirt bikes. They have been terrorizing the neighborhood. The next thing I knew, Mrs. Nichols was upset and crying."

The neighborhood reaction toward Mrs. Nichols has Mr. Roberts puzzled.

"I don't know why they jumped her. She thinks she's tough, but she's not strong enough to deal with these people," he said.

Captain Beauchamp said he hopes Mrs. Nichols can be appeased.

"Like I said, we think she is something special over here," he said. "We don't want to lose her."

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