Grand jury blast to be probed? Decision awaited


The state special prosecutor is expected to decide today whether he will investigate a Baltimore grand jury report that says the Police Department's drug enforcement effort is badly managed and the city state's attorney's office thwarted several high-profile drug investigations.

Special prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said he received an unexpurgated copy of the grand jury report Wednesday. The report alleges that police and the city prosecutor's office blocked investigations linked to elected officials and other well-known suspects, that the police focused on street-level drug arrests instead of more important targets and that federal grants meant for drug enforcement were misspent on police overtime pay.

"In the public document, serious allegations were made against police supervisors and the state's attorney and his staff," Mr. Montanarelli said. "The reason we wanted to review the sealed document was to determine what substantiation there was for such charges."

Mr. Montanarelli's office investigates corruption and white-collar crime. Should he decide to proceed with an investigation, he would impanel a special grand jury that would convene in Baltimore.

Richard Bennett, the U.S. attorney for Maryland, also has obtained a copy of the report.

Joseph H. H. Kaplan, administrative judge for the Baltimore Circuit Court, said he gave copies of the sealed report to state and federal prosecutors earlier this week because the allegations are serious enough to deserve further scrutiny.

"The grand jury didn't have the sophistication to conduct board room investigations, a long-term financial investigation," Judge Kaplan said.

"I reviewed the report myself and found a number of things to be concerned about," Judge Kaplan said. "If police officers were transferred when close to solving a particular offense, then that needs to be addressed.

"And, if certain investigations were quashed, that certainly needs looking into," the judge said.

Mr. Montanarelli and Mr. Bennett will receive the list of 50 witnesses who appeared before the city grand jury, Judge Kaplan said.

The public report -- heavily edited to protect the identities of the 50 witnesses and targets of police investigations -- was released March 9. The document's most serious charges addressed alleged mismanagement within the Police Department and the quashing of narcotics investigations by the city state's attorney's office.

After the report was released, State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms said the grand jury "cast aspersions and made bald allegations."

Mr. Simms characterized the report as "amateurish."

Three members of the grand jury have told The Sun, however, that one of the major problems they faced during their six-month probe was a lack of cooperation by Mr. Simms. They also said the city's top narcotics prosecutor, Howard Gersh, refused to answer questions on Nov. 5 while under oath about certain investigations that were dropped.

"The tone of Mr. Simms was that he would help but only so far," said Toni Talbott, assistant forewoman who wrote the grand jury's final report.

"The more testimony we heard, the more we wanted to know why certain things were done, and the less we trusted the state's attorney's office," Ms. Talbott said. "We tried three separate times to ask Mr. Simms questions but it was always under his terms. In our final try, he agreed to meet with us in his office, but not under oath and without the court reporter.

"I came very close to issuing a subpoena for him but by then we had run out of time," she said.

Also, Ms. Talbott and two other grand jury members who asked for anonymity, said that Mr. Gersh, a veteran city prosecutor, steadfastly refused to answer specific questions about certain drug probes that were discontinued after investigating officers were transferred.

"He didn't take us seriously," Ms. Talbott said. "He became very agitated, very tense, when certain names of investigative targets were mentioned. Mr. Gersh just wouldn't answer our questions."

Another member of the panel said that during questioning, Mr. Gersh "began to sweat, twisting in his chair. He wouldn't answer us." Mr. Gersh was on the stand for more than an hour.

All three sources said both Mr. Simms and Mr. Gersh approached witnesses in a room and corridor outside where the grand jury convened and inquired about who had appeared before the panel and prospective witnesses.

Mr. Simms said yesterday he refused to testify under oath because the grand jury had "meandered" from its original charge from city Circuit Court Judge Kenneth L. Johnson to investigate the quality of narcotics enforcement in the city.

He also said he did talk with some witnesses "but no one was working the brew."

"The entire process of the investigation was inappropriate because the grand jury was not a disinterested body," Mr. Simms said.

Asked if he had talked to the grand jury court reporter or witnesses, Mr. Simms first replied, "I don't recall any specific in- stances."

Later, in yesterday's interview, he said he had spoken with some grand jury members and witnesses. He pointed out that his office is directly across the hall from the grand jury room.

"I never sought out information but certain people, like some colonels I know, volunteered [information about the grand jury proceedings] after they had testified. There was daily business to carry on, what did you expect for us to close down the entire courthouse?"

Mr. Gersh declined to talk about his involvement with the grand jury or to his testimony before the 23-member panel.

"Obviously, this grand jury issue is so sensitive I think any statements coming out this office should come from Mr. Simms," Mr. Gersh said.

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