Defensive, flustered and at times angry, Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy was on the hot seat last night as a roomful of Southwest Baltimore residents and police officers charged that arrests for drug-related crimes are not being aggressively prosecuted.
Jessamy, who is considering a run for mayor next year, denied that her office -- which handles about 109,000 cases a year -- treats any cases lightly.
At the heart of the forum, sponsored by the Southwestern Community Improvement Association, was the issue of zero tolerance for any offenses and whether people arrested for trying to buy drugs in police sting operations are routinely let off without punishment or jail time.
"No matter what you've heard, we are pursuing reverse sting operations and vigorously prosecuting," Jessamy told the group of about 75 people gathered at Bon Secours Support Center, 26 N. Fulton Ave.
"We want prosecution of nuisance crimes," said the Rev. Edward G. Robinson, president of the community association and pastor of the Agape House on North Carrollton Street.
"We do that," Jessamy shot back.
"We don't feel that way in the community, and neither do the police," Robinson answered, saying he understood that Jessamy's office routinely ignored loitering cases.
"I think you're mistaken," said Jessamy. "I'm not a rubber stamp for the police. I'm a prosecutor."
Lt. Russell N. Shea Jr., who heads the drug enforcement unit for the Southwestern District, said he knew of 49 cases of people arrested for attempting to buy drugs that were dropped by the state's attorney's office. Shea challenged Jessamy before television cameras to sift through the folders of six recent drug arrests to see if officers had followed her guidelines for successful prosecution.
Jessamy denied that all 49 cases were dropped. More than half were indeed dropped, she said, while four were thrown out for insufficient evidence, 11 defendants were sentenced to community service, six were dismissed because police failed to appear in court, and others did not go to trial because the records were lost.
She refused to look at the case folders Shea had brought with him, calling the move "grandstanding" and "inappropriate."
"I wanted her to show me where my people are not doing [case preparation] right, and she wouldn't look," said Shea, noting that arrests for nuisance crimes, such as urinating in alleys and throwing trash on the street, help disrupt routine drug business. "She didn't answer any questions for anybody, she just talked in circles. When I asked her why they didn't prosecute for loitering, she never answered. I still arrest for loitering. It inconveniences [the criminal]."
Jessamy said that with limited resources, the priority of her office will continue to be violent offenders, regardless of whether or not they are involved with drugs.
"We should be working together with the police, not [as adversaries]," she said. "Lieutenant Shea is the one keeping this thing going, that police are doing all this work and their cases are falling through the cracks. I have no idea why he's so upset."
The residents were upset because they believe a few dozen hours of community service for drug offenders is not enough.
And, they argued, if it weren't for outsiders -- often suburbanites -- entering the city to feed their habits, their streets wouldn't be ruled by armed dealers, who operate more than 60 open-air drugs markets in the southwest part of town, according to police.
"I don't feel a whole lot better now than I did before Ms. Jessamy came," said Robinson. "What I heard was she's going to keep doing business as usual."
Pub Date: 12/10/98