SOME OF THIS may sound familiar, but bear with me.
Eight years ago, when Deborah Garland lived in the 2200 block of Prentiss Place, she made an early morning run to a 24-hour Giant food store to pick up some items for a co-worker's departure party the same day.
She returned around 4:30 a.m. to find drug dealers selling their wares in front of her door. Garland decided she'd had enough. She moved her family from the East Baltimore block to a quiet, integrated, middle-class neighborhood on Plainfield Avenue in Northeast Baltimore. The drug dealers and addicts had become a thing of the past for her and her children, Angela, then 14, and James Garland Jr., then 11. No more drug sales in front of her door, Garland figured. No chance a drug addict might break into her home.
But on Sept. 6, someone did break into her home: Baltimore City police officers, on one of several drug raids they carried out that day.
Deborah Garland was working at her nurse's job at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where she's been employed some 14 years. James Garland, now 19, was asleep. Angela Garland, now, 22, was in the basement. She had just placed her 8-month-old daughter, Jasmine Washington, in her playpen and was about to iron her nurse's uniform and head out for the job she had just started when she heard a loud banging at her front door.
"I went to the door and asked, 'Who is it?'" Angela Garland said Thursday night as she sat in the living room recounting the incident with her mother and brother. "They said, 'It's the police,' so I opened the door.
When the cops moved in, Angela Garland asked to see the warrant before they started searching. Four officers rousted James Garland from his bed, handcuffed him and had him sit with his hands behind his back for as long as 2 1/2 hours, the brother and sister estimate.
With Jasmine wailing from the basement, Angela Gardner begged police to let her go down and get her baby. They told her to sit down. When she persisted, one officer told her "You need to shut up." But she refused. Finally, one of the officers retrieved the infant.
Cops had arrived at about Jasmine's regular feeding time. When Angela Garland asked if she could prepare a bottle, a female detective snapped, "Not until you say please." The same detective later pulled Angela Garland aside and asked her a series of questions.
"Who lives here? Who comes here? What male friends do you have?"
"I have a lot of male friends," Angela Garland answered. "Did you have anybody particular in mind?"
"You've got a smart mouth," the detective answered, and threatened to arrest Angela Garland and have Jasmine taken to child protective services.
Toward the end of the ordeal, Angela Garland got the answer to her persistent question of "What are you looking for?" She asked the officers if they had found it.
"Yes," the female detective answered.
"What?" Angela Garland asked.
"Personal papers," the detective said, holding in her hand what Angela Gardner said were her bills from J.C. Penney and Blockbuster Video, her brother's mail from some creditors and her mother's annuity statement.
So here's what we have: a series of raids conducted by Baltimore police on Sept. 6. In at least two houses, no drugs or drug paraphernalia are found. In the home of Gailya and Thor Locke of the 2900 block of Allendale Road, cops got a phone and address book, a bank statement, and some pictures taken at a hip-hop concert. In the Garland residence, they nabbed the ever-incriminating bills, mail and an annuity statement that Deborah Garland, until that day, thought was her own business.
As in the case of the Locke search, the Garlands said they were treated to the spiel about how police couldn't give them probable cause because the warrant affidavit was sealed and the investigation was continuing.
It would be easy to blame the police here. They make perfect scapegoats - taking all the risks and all the heat. But cops don't sign warrants - judges do. The police don't request sealed affidavits. Prosecuting attorneys do. So let's spread the blame for what happened to the Garlands and the Lockes around a bit.
The first problem is with the language in the warrant itself.
Police, according to the warrants for both houses, were looking for "certain property, namely, Personal papers showing proprietary interest, Video and Cassette tapes, Ledgers, Electronic Data Storage Devices and U.S. Currency, which is in violation of the Laws of Maryland pertaining to Article 27, Section 276-302 of the Annotated Code of Maryland."
This is language with a surfeit of verbiage and a dearth of meaning - classic, butt-covering lingo designed to give police the right to search for everything and nothing at the same time and to allow officers, when citizens legitimately question what they're looking for, to thrust a couple of bills in their faces and say "This." What, ultimately, will the state's attorney's office charge Angela Garland with?
Conspiracy to be a consumer?