The usually secret world of Carroll drug officers and their confidential informants went on public display in a county
courtroom for more than five hours yesterday.
The almost unprecedented glimpse into the agreements made between officers of the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force and their cadre of drug snitches occurred during a hearing in which a former informant, who helped nab at least four local drug dealers, tried to convince Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold that a prosecutor told him not to get an attorney in an unrelated traffic case.
Judge Arnold said he found no evidence of misconduct on the part of drug officers or prosecutors in the case of Michael F. Cartwright.
But he offered a blistering criticism of the way informants are recruited and treated by the task force.
"There are two things that are hot buttons for me," the judge said from the bench. "One is when obvious perjury is flying around the courtroom, and another is when inferences are made that the trial and judge are fixed."
Cartwright, 21, of Owings Mills was trying to get charges of driving on a revoked license and providing a false name to a police officer dropped yesterday because, he said, he was told by Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III, the task force coordinator, that he didn't need an attorney and that he wouldn't to jail.
"When I asked him if I needed a lawyer, he said, 'No, you can get what you want, you don't need a lawyer.' "
Judge Arnold convicted Cartwright of driving on a revoked license, a charge that could put him in jail for a year. The conviction also likely will violate the terms of his parole in a theft case, placing him at risk of being sentenced to 10 more years.
Cartwright and another informant, Patricia Fahnestock, 28, both say prosecutors cast them aside after promising that they would be taken care of for helping the task force.
Cartwright, who has been a task force informant since 1991, approached state police Tfc. Robert Heuisler, a task force officer, shortly after he was charged with driving on a revoked license in June. He said he wanted to work for the task force again so he could avoid violating probation in a felony theft case in which he was on probation but had a suspended 10-year sentence hanging over his head. Trooper Heuisler testified yesterday that Cartwright was a good informant who helped nab several drug dealers.
The trooper also said that he told the informant he would tell Mr. Walker of Cartwright's help, but could not promise what a judge might decide in the traffic case.
Ms. Fahnestock, who offered to become an informant late last year to "work off" her second charge of driving while intoxicated, said she was promised no jail time in that case if she helped the task force.
She said yesterday that Tfc. Donald Grimes, who was a task force officer until February, told her she would not go to jail if she worked as an informant. Trooper Grimes confirmed that promise in testimony yesterday.
"I told her to do everything she could possibly do, and she did three cases for us," the trooper said. "I told her I would talk to Bart Walker, and she would be taken care of."
MA She was convicted and sentenced to a week in the county jail.