Nicole Sesker was walking along West Belvedere Avenue yesterday when a white Chevrolet Cavalier made a screeching U-turn and stopped next to her. Three plainclothes Baltimore officers jumped out and ordered her, the police commissioner's stepdaughter, to sit on the curb.
"Possible narcotics violation," an officer said to Sesker and two men with her. The officers were doing covert surveillance from a nearby apartment building a half-mile from Pimlico Race Course in Northwest Baltimore when they made their move. They searched all three for drugs; one officer said they did not know she was Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm's stepdaughter, and that they did not find drugs on her.
One man was arrested and taken away in a wagon. Sesker and the other man were allowed to leave after about 20 minutes. Homeless and addicted to heroin, Sesker shook off her latest encounter with police - part of an aggressive crime-fighting strategy ordered by the police force her father runs - and kept walking.
"They were just doing their job," she said.
Sesker, 36, has been thrust into a national spotlight, highlighting Baltimore's decades-long struggle with drugs, after news reports publicized her relationship to Hamm and his commitment to dealing sensitively with addicts while at the same time making arrests.
Yesterday, Hamm, who was named commissioner this year, spoke about his relationship with his stepdaughter, who went to Woodlawn High School and played three sports. Hamm, born and raised in Baltimore, said his experience as a police officer for most of his adult life often put him the position of offering advice and guidance to families of people caught up in drugs.
"I had to understand, as I told other families, that this is not the same person that you raised, that the drugs made this person different," Hamm said.
He said he still has a relationship with his stepdaughter, but she has made choices about her life. She wrote him a letter about a month ago, he said.
Mayor Martin O'Malley said Hamm did discuss his stepdaughter's struggles with him before Hamm's confirmation as commissioner in March.
The mayor said he has been fully aware and supportive of Hamm's "Get Out Of The Game" initiative, in which police officers approach young people caught up in drug dealing in an attempt to link them with job placement or treatment services. O'Malley said his administration has emphasized coupling more drug treatment with more effective law enforcement, and that Hamm's program was established in the same spirit.
"There aren't a whole lot of families that that scourge [of drugs] has not touched," O'Malley said.
Sesker said she has been homeless for several months and does not know what to do. She sleeps in abandoned buildings and, when she has the spare money, stays a night or two at a hotel to clean up and shower.
"It really humbles you," she said of her addiction.
At times brushing away tears yesterday, Sesker said she has a lot of feelings for Hamm, whom she calls "Pop."
"When he became police commissioner, I called him up and said, 'Way to go, Pop,' " she said.
Sesker says she knows she has people who care about her and that she wants to try to turn her life around. She said she is trying to cope with the loss of her mother, who died of cancer three years ago.
As her stepfather's career in law enforcement progressed, Sesker saw the city's criminal justice system from the inside. She has been arrested and has spent time at the city jail several times. She was convicted in 1999 of drug possession and distribution, and received a 10-year suspended sentence, with three years' probation. This year, she was arrested in April on drug charges and was found not guilty in June.
These days, she hangs out just south of the Northwestern police district, amid liquor stores, carryout food shops, and gas stations.
She has a cut on one knee - an injury from the night before, she said.
"I was robbed," she added, matter-of-factly.
She says she is fighting an ear infection, and she asks for people to speak a little louder when they speak with her. She has a has a young daughter who is being cared for by the girl's father.
She called The Sun last night, asking for help. "I don't know where I'm gonna sleep tonight," she said.
Sun staff writer Doug Donovan contributed to this article.