'A true travesty of justice'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A special grand jury charged by Circuit Judge Kenneth L. Johnson with probing the quality of drug enforcement in the city released its report earlier this week. The 23-member panel harshly criticized the Police Department, saying it was targeting its efforts at street-level offenders rather than the wealthy and politically influential. The names of witnesses, individuals and cases were deleted by order of Judge Johnson in compliance with state law. Following are edited excerpts from the charge to the grand jury by Judge Johnson:

As presiding judge of the felony arraignment court from November 1990 through August 1991, I was able to keep detailed statistics relating to all defendants who pleaded guilty. During that period, 7,352 felony cases passed through the arraignment court. Of those, 1,722 resulted in guilty pleas. At the time of their pleas, 55 percent of the defendants had one prior conviction, 37 percent had two and 24 percent had three prior convictions. Sixty-one percent of the total were actual drug cases . . .

The defendants were relatively young. The overall average age was 28 and the average age for drug case defendants was 25. The average education level was 10th grade. All of the drug cases involved minor street-level dealer earnings, at best a few thousand dollars per week.

During my 10-month tenure in the felony arraignment court, not a single case involving a drug dealer at the wholesale level passed through that court. [A letter from State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms, attached to the grand jury report, refutes this statement and lists a number of major wholesale drug operations prosecuted by Mr. Simms' office.] Wholesale drug dealers earn tens of thousands of dollars per week, and they are not being pursued by the criminal justice system . . . Some of these dealers are employed in regular jobs as accountants, lawyers, doctors and businessmen in general and their money launderers. Their drug deals are much harder to detect and prosecute and have not been given priority in the overall law enforcement effort.

There is no pressure by society that requires the political leadership to confront and control the grave and pervasive problems that are caused by the drug trade. The list of crimes caused by the drug trade . . . is generally well known and rightly fuels public anger and outrage. The even greater institutional crimes of bribery and corruption caused by the wholesale drug dealers are much less known or understood by the public. These involve lawyers who collect and file false affidavits on behalf of their clients, lawyers who pay alibi witnesses to testify falsely at criminal trials, businessmen and bankers who "launder" drug money and otherwise do business with drug money and "front" for drug dealers and accountants and investment bankers who provide the necessary expertise to keep the enormous flow of cash hidden from public scrutiny.

My charge to you is that you look into and determine the reasons why the wholesale drug dealers are not being pursued and brought to justice by the criminal justice system. Your findings and report will be of great public importance. Until they are brought to justice, the so-called "war on drugs" will remain an illusion. And the ravages caused by the drug trade in Baltimore will continue unabated.

Following are edited excerpts from the report of the grand jury, which heard 50 witnesses in an extended term starting last May:

It was unfortunate that this grand jury had to overcome many obstacles to fulfill its charge. We were labeled the "runaway grand jury" and the "rogue grand jury" because we decided for ourselves the depth and approach to this investigation and would not be steered nor intimidated away from [fulfilling the] charge. . .

Our findings unfortunately do not cast those with the greatest responsibility in this so-called "war on drugs" in the best light. We determined that in many instances the expertise, manpower and money are in fact available, contrary to popular belief. However, many of the impediments to progress in these investigations come from within the very agency and prosecutor's office charged with the responsibility to wage this illusory "war." The evidence produced clearly demonstrates a hands-off approach when the targets were certain well-connected members of the community. . .

There [is] substantial evidence that the majority of large-scale investigations stemming from the district drug enforcement units are in fact directed out of the department. Many of the incidents testified to suggest a degree of anarchy among the different districts and units, evidencing poor leadership and management. . .

There exists in the Police Department a policy of rotation of its officers. Individuals are transferred among the different areas of police work. The genesis of this policy is somewhat uncertain; it may have begun during Commissioner Donald Pomerleau's administration. Its original purpose was to prevent officers working in vice units from becoming overburdened and susceptible to unwarranted influences. . .

There is no credible evidence to substantiate the presumption that this policy is or has been a deterrent in preventing corruption, stress or burnout. Further, one must really weigh the validity of the transfers or rotation when the decisions are made by non-medical personnel. From the testimony of the witnesses (police officers and detectives), however, [some transfers have been influenced by] individuals who are politically, socially or professionally well-connected. . . One of these people, for example, is a well-known member of the community with cash-based businesses. He was the subject of an investigation in 1979 by a police officer, and again in 1986. There was evidence that he was laundering drug money, and the investigation met resistance by the higher echelon in the Police Department, with the investigating officer ultimately transferred to another department.

We find that the rotation policy is used as a weapon for the police who are "not in the fold." Anyone perceived to be a "troublemaker" or outspoken is ousted (rotated) to a district post or the bowels of the headquarters building. . .

Several investigators testified to having viable cases taken away from them, told directly not to go further or were abruptly reassigned. In [some] instances, investigations were just stopped not only by the upper echelon of the Police Department but also by the state's attorney's office. Again, these individuals cannot be named, but it is our hope that these matters can be resurrected.

In more than one instance, investigations have pointed in the direction of certain elected officials, only to be thwarted by superiors. In one instance this individual's name was removed from a file after being turned over to a detective's supervisor on the supervisor's order. In another instance involving another official, the Police Department supervisor ordered subordinates not to pursue the investigation.

When the focus was on yet another businessman alleged to be involved in the laundering of cash for a certain drug operation, a certain assistant state's attorney interceded to put a halt to the efforts. This action by the assistant has been corroborated . . .

Drug enforcement is basically a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. operation. As can be expected, most illegal drug activity occurs from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. Also, during this period of time, the minimum number of narcotics officers are working the street.

Money has come to the Police Department from the federal government through grants to fight the crack epidemic. . . Overtime for drug enforcement officers came from this grant and went into this unit.

Shockingly, it was noted that once this money became available, all of the black officers were transferred from crack investigations and replaced by white officers. A substantial sum was then disbursed for overtime duties. . . Though this phase of the report is lacking in documentation in many areas, the testimony regarding the preferential and discriminatory management techniques of drug enforcement operations in the department warrants in-depth investigation. . .

The prevalence of New York residents entering the city to capture the local drug market is not new. Testimony and intelligence data revealed a dramatic increase in drug activity stemming from an organization led by a New York resident during the mid-1980s. This organization, labeled "New York Boys," was brought to the attention of law enforcement officials, local and federal, through the efforts of the tactical section, Special Tactical Operations Patrol Squad (STOP).

For five years the STOP Squad aggressively pursued all levels of drug violators associated with this organization, resulting in numerous arrests and convictions. These successes, however, were irrevocably dismissed by department officials and undermined by the state's attorney's office narcotics chief. Lack of department financial support, breaches of confidentiality, personal affronts to character and investigative skills led ultimately to the demise of the investigation. Police officers and others closely associated with this investigation concur that it was terminated too soon -- the source was not shut down. Consequently, spin-off organizations were allowed to flourish. . .

The attitude with which the state's attorney's office has approached this entire investigation has perplexed this grand jury and caused a great deal of concern. It was our view that the office would welcome this charge and there would be a spirit of cooperation to try to deal with one of the worst plagues on our society. We felt there would be a common bond in our endeavors.

To our dismay, we have met with resistance from the office. Due to the atmosphere generated, we became uncomfortable and suspect of any direction the office would have attempted to provide us.

The contempt with which we were treated by the state's attorney's office, coupled with the testimony of some of the witnesses, has raised grave concerns about what is actually going on. The combined evidence raises more than mere suspicions about the propriety of some of the assistants and their conduct when it comes to certain high-profile, well-connected members of the community. . .

From what we have seen and heard during this six-month term, a true travesty of justice is being perpetrated by some of those charged with enforcing the law.

We make the following recommendations:

1. Appoint a special prosecutor to further investigate the general policy and procedures of the Police Department and state's attorney's office. . .

2. Appoint an independent auditor to audit the department budget and drug enforcement fiscal accounts and employment history, in conjunction with special prosecution.

3. Reassign drug enforcement supervisors.

4. Use asset sharing funds to purchase a centralized data base and to upgrade current computer systems to allow for networking information.

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