Special city grand jury wants investigation of police anti-drug effort Poor management, political influence cited in report


A special Baltimore grand jury is calling for an independent prosecutor to investigate the city Police Department's drug enforcement effort, which is criticized as badly managed, politically influenced and targeted largely at street-level offenders, according to a report being released today.

Charged by Circuit Judge Kenneth L. Johnson with probing the quality of drug enforcement in the city, the 23-member panel also has recommended an audit of police finances, citing misspending of federal grant money and other funds designated for drug enforcement.

In addition, the grand jury report suggests that commanders of the department's narcotics section of the Criminal Investigation Division be reassigned, saying the unit operated "on its own terms with little control or direction."

Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods declined to comment last night on the report. Department spokesman Sam Ringgold said officials, who had not yet seen the document, would "wait to see the whole report before commenting."

Based on testimony from 50 witnesses, including veteran Baltimore homicide and narcotics investigators, the grand jury report does not name specific individuals, which is prohibited by law. Instead, a more comprehensive version of the report has been sealed by the court. That document can be reviewed by the state special prosecutor's office or the U.S. attorney.

In his charge to the grand jury, Judge Johnson said he had become frustrated at the large number of low-level drug cases brought before him, coupled with the lack of prosecutions of high-level dealers or money launderers.

Yesterday, the judge declined to comment about the report's findings, saying that to do so would be inappropriate. However, the report makes a series of allegations about the management and performance of the department's top narcotics unit, specifically:

* That drug and homicide investigations that "pointed in the direction of certain elected officials" were thwarted by police commanders. In one instance, the report contends, the name of an elected official was removed from a case file after a superior ordered a detective to relinquish the file.

"Such improprieties and neglect abound throughout the Police Department," the report contends. "It is obvious collusion exists and is used as a vehicle to protect many well-connected individuals."

Sources said the panel heard about a 1990 murder investigation in which state Sen. Larry Young, a Baltimore Democrat, was interviewed as a witness. When detectives found an informant whose account of events before the murder contradicted that of the senator, they planned to use the informant in an undercover capacity. Detectives told the jurors that they were ordered to reveal the informant's name to high-ranking commanders, who they suspected of leaking the name to prevent the undercover operation.

Citing concerns about cases with political connections, the report notes that while "these individuals cannot be named . . . it is our hope that these matters can be resurrected."

* That high-ranking commanders ignored repeated warnings about the influx of "New York Boys" -- young street dealers who have migrated to Baltimore. The report cited a series of %o intelligence reports that warned of the trend, but those reports were dismissed because of internal politics and caused "no great alarm."

Questioned about intelligence reports that were submitted to him in 1989 and 1991, Commissioner Woods told the panel he "did not have any recollection of having seen the initial and follow-up reports," the report stated.

Since they began to arrive in Baltimore in the mid-1980s, New Yorkers have come to dominate more than a dozen major drug markets in the city. The report said the departmental response to the migration constitutes a "failure to act when there was an opportunity to have made a difference."

* That while drug activity is a 24-hour enterprise in the city, Criminal Investigations Division detectives were encouraged to abuse overtime by scheduling their hours on a 9 a.m.-to-5 p.m. basis, then using federal money earmarked to fight crack cocaine to pay overtime for these officers after they worked their regular shift.

The report also alleges other "financial machinations" in the narcotics section, including "the use of funds for nonallocated purposes."

* That the department's concentration on street-level drug arrests results in a disproportionate number of young black males being charged and comes at the expense of more significant investigative targets.

"As long as there were large numbers of arrests of street-level users and dealers it seemed as if all interest [political] was pacified," the report stated. "We became keenly aware of these overwhelming statistics with no focus on what happens to the astronomical sums of cash being generated."

* That the department's long-standing rotation policy, which requires narcotics detectives to be transferred after four- or five-year stints, is self-defeating.

Although it's intended to minimize the possibility of corruption and burn-out, the rotation policy results in the removal of most detectives just at the point when they have mastered the complexities of drug enforcement, detectives said. The report further alleges that the rotation policy was used inconsistently to weed out detectives who tried to tackle more important targets.

The report further criticized the state's attorney's office for resisting the efforts of the special grand jury, which chose to conduct its investigation without the aid of a prosecutor. Specifically, the grand jurors expressed doubts about the willingness of the prosecutor's office to pursue politically connected suspects.

In the report itself, the grand jurors acknowledged that they had come to be regarded as a "runaway grand jury" acting without the guidance of a prosecutor. "We decided for ourselves the depth and approach to this investigation and would not be steered nor intimidated away from the given charge."

The panel's suspicion of the state's attorney's office brought an angry comment last night from Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms, who dismissed the panel's comments about his office as "ridiculous. Just ridiculous. That's indicative of the manner in which [the grand jury probe] was done. It was done in such a way that they could reach conclusions they wanted to reach."

As early as May 1992, when the panel first convened, Mr. Simms cited for the grand jury a series of seven recent state prosecutions of mid- or higher-level drug traffickers, as well as four cases that were strong enough and important enough to be pursued successfully in federal court.

At the same time, Mr. Simms did not dispute the report's specific criticism of the performance of the Police Department's narcotics effort, saying only that such questions or concerns should be addressed to police officials.

Mr. Simms acknowledged that the detectives who led the 1990 probe of Linwood "Rudolph" Williams -- one of the cases cited by the prosecutor in his memo to the jurors -- were later thwarted in their effort to create a major case squad to pursue similar high-level drug traffickers.

"But that's not an issue for my shop," Mr. Simms said. "When we are brought a case that can be prosecuted, we do so."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad