Probe puts city cases in jeopardy

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Nearly two dozen criminal cases have been dropped -- and another 70 are in peril of falling apart -- because a pair of Baltimore detectives are being investigated on a perjury allegation, city prosecutors and police say.

The dropped cases, which include an attempted murder charge, are the direct result of the internal police investigation into Southern District detectives Clarence Grear and Kevin E. Jones, prosecutors say. They are "scrambling" to save the rest.

"We realize the trouble we are going to have if we present a case with them as witnesses," said William F. Cecil, team captain in the nonfatal shooting unit in the Baltimore state's attorney's office. "We're trying to see how we can salvage every single case they're involved in."

The investigation into Grear and Jones stems from a search they conducted in July of a suspect's car -- and whether at least one of the detectives lied about having a warrant at the time they searched it.

The detectives' police powers were suspended Aug. 20, according to department spokesman Matt Jablow.

He said he doesn't know when police will finish their investigation of the detectives. "There's a lot to look into," Jablow said.

Neither the detectives nor their lawyers responded to requests for comment.

But Dan Fickus, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said Grear and Jones have been "exceptional officers" over the years.

"They are some of the best detectives in the Southern District," he said.

Credibility question

Prosecutors and defense attorneys say that if the investigation reveals the detectives lied about the search, it would damage their credibility in every other case they've touched.

The mere fact that they are being investigated is enough to cast doubt on their character during trial, say prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges.

Prosecutors are dismissing only the cases they feel are hopeless without testimony from the detectives, they say. The rest are being postponed in an effort to locate other witnesses or find some way to save them.

"It's an overwhelming challenge," said Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy. "It's very complicated because we had to dismiss cases of very violent people -- shooters possessing guns and other violent folks."

According to Jessamy, 13 District Court cases and eight from Circuit Court were dropped by her office. The charges include assault with a box cutter, drug dealing and gun possession.

The cases that are in danger of falling apart include 32 shootings, according to Jessamy.

She said the investigation of the two detectives complicates the problem that prosecutors already have with Baltimore jurors who are skeptical of police testimony.

"This is another issue added to the mix," she said. "One we shouldn't have to deal with."

Several other cases investigated by Grear and Jones have gone to trial this summer and resulted in acquittals.

Cecil said it was worth the gamble to take those cases to court.

"Somebody shot somebody," he said. "Our obligation is to do the best we can, so the truth about what happened can come out."

Search led to inquiry

The incident that sparked the entire situation stems from a search warrant requested by Grear in July.

In the warrant application, Grear wrote that he wanted to search the home and car of Antoine Collins, 22, a Westport man who had a history of drug arrests, and who was on probation for selling marijuana and illegally possessing a shotgun.

Grear wrote in the application that he saw Collins selling drugs from a car days earlier. It further states that Grear has participated in more than 50 search-and-seizure warrants for drugs.

On July 19 at 10:37 p.m., Judge Alfred Nance signed the warrant.

The search of the house occurred a short time later, early on the morning of July 20, according to Collins' mother, Anita Partlow. The detectives came up empty-handed.

"The boy must respect you," Partlow recalled Grear saying. "There is nothing in your house."

But according to a tow truck receipt obtained by The Sun, Collins' car, a gray 1990 Cadillac, was taken to the Southern District on July 19 between 6:35 and 7:10 p.m. -- more than three hours before the warrant was signed.

Once it was there, the detectives asked the tow truck driver if they could use his tools, and immediately broke into the car, said the driver, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution from police.

"As soon as we got the car there, they started searching it," the driver said. "They jimmied the lock, broke the trunk open and went in the car. They took some things out."

A day later, Grear wrote in a police document that the Cadillac was searched July 20 by a team including himself and Jones. They found two guns, heroin, marijuana and three digital scales.

Grear signed the document as true under the penalties of perjury.

Several days later, the discrepancy was discovered by Collins' lawyer, Margaret A. Mead, who brought it to the attention of prosecutors. They quickly dropped the case against Collins.

Word got out, and the fallout has been enormous.

"Grear was a powerful force in the Southern District," said Mead. "He had a forceful presence and reputation."

Grear and Jones attended the Police Academy at the same time and started on the force together in July 1996. When the incident occurred, they were partners, both assigned to the Criminal Investigation Division in the Southern District.

Neither has been formally disciplined by the Police Department in the past. But in 2001, Jones was brought up by prosecutors on charges of assaulting a handcuffed inmate as the prisoner was being transported from court. He was acquitted of the charge by a Circuit Court judge in January 2002.

Mead said she believes the allegations against Grear and Jones have cast a pall across the Police Department.

"It's a shame, because when there is the appearance of misconduct, it taints the citizens' view of police," she said. "The vast majority of police are hard-working, dedicated and honest."

'Tactical decision'

Early last month, Mead defended someone in an attempted murder case in which Jones had been an investigating detective.

The prosecutor, Lisa Phelps, would not put Jones on the witness stand because of the questions surrounding his credibility.

"It was more of a liability for our case to call him than a help," said Cecil, Phelps' supervisor. "We made the tactical decision not to call him."

By not bringing him into court, Phelps had no way to introduce into evidence a bullet shell found in the defendant's pocket -- a critical piece of evidence in a shooting case.

"The cost to try to get that piece of evidence in would have been too great," Cecil said.

After deliberating for about six hours, the jury acquitted on charges of attempted murder and assault. Jurors deadlocked on misdemeanor handgun charges.

Several other cases involving Grear and Jones have ended this way, according to court records and defense lawyers.

Circuit Judge John N. Prevas, the city judge who primarily deals with issues of discovery and rules of evidence, said the search warrant issue would likely taint every other case that involves Grear and Jones.

Prevas said that a defense attorney could introduce evidence about the detectives if they were on the stand.

"It becomes, 'Who's on trial, the defendant or the officer?'" Prevas said. "You don't want to put anybody on the stand that has ever been caught doing anything bad. It works against you."

Defense lawyer Michael E. Kaminkow has recently had two cases involving Grear: One was an attempted murder case that was postponed, the other a handgun case that was tossed out at the request of the prosecution.

"It's certainly bad for a case when the lead detective may be rendered an incompetent witness," Kaminkow said.

"I don't think any of us are pleased to see that kind of way for a case to end," Kaminkow said. "It doesn't do the criminal justice system any good. It continues to fuel the view that the Police Department has little credibility."

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