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Rape charges dropped

The Baltimore Sun

Prosecutors dropped all charges yesterday against two Baltimore police officers accused of doing nothing to stop another officer from having sex with a female suspect at a police station.

Officers Steven Hatley and Brian Shaffer had been charged with rape and misconduct in office, among other counts, until a deputy state's attorney told a judge at a brief court hearing yesterday that it was "in the best interest of justice" to end the criminal cases against them.

As they left the city Circuit Courthouse, holding hands with their wives, Hatley, 28, and Shaffer, 29, said they wanted to remain police officers.

"The system worked in this case," Shaffer said. "It was a long process, and I wish it could have been shorter, but it worked."

The dismissals came three days after a city jury reached not-guilty verdicts in the case of Officer Jemini Jones, 29, the first of the three officers to stand trial.

A 23-year-old woman accused Jones of coercing her to have sex on Dec. 27, 2005, to avoid being sent to jail on drug charges. Prosecutors accused Hatley and Shaffer of helping to arrange Jones' encounter with the woman, whom the three had arrested that day.

The three officers were part of the Southwestern District "flex squad," a specialized unit that investigated drug dealers and crime hot spots. The rape allegation brought to light broader accusations of wrongdoing in the squad that are being investigated by the Police Department.

Prosecutors did want to comment beyond a prepared statement from a spokeswoman that said the officers were indicted "following an independent grand jury investigation."

From the beginning of the rape investigation, Hatley and Shaffer have wanted to tell their story, the two officers said. The day after the alleged rape, the two said, they waived the right to remain silent and gave statements to sex crimes and internal affairs investigators.

Their attorneys said they asked that Hatley and Shaffer testify before a grand jury, but prosecutors, who control what evidence is presented in those court proceedings, declined. Then, after they were indicted early last January, Shaffer and Hatley offered to talk with investigators and prosecutors, their attorneys said, but those offers also were declined.

A gag order put in place soon after the indictments prevented the officers and their attorneys from talking publicly. The order ended yesterday when charges were dropped, though the officers would not discuss Jones because of a separate pending rape charge against him.

Yesterday, for the first time, they gave an hourlong interview to a Sun reporter at their attorneys' office.

"Until right now, here, I have never talked to anybody," Hatley said. "I just had to read in the press about how we 'stood by and watched a rape.' We weren't even in the building."

Hatley and Shaffer said they had no idea what, if anything, happened inside the station on Dec. 27, 2005. They said they heard no talk of sex and did not witness anything inappropriate between Jones and the woman.

Hatley and Shaffer passed lie-detector tests reinforcing that point, said Paul M. Blair Jr., the police union president.

The two - and their lawyers and Blair - said they remain puzzled why they were charged in the first place.

"In my 11 years representing police officers, I have never seen a case investigated like this and prosecuted with such little evidence," said Michael J. Belsky, Hatley's lawyer.

Blair said he was convinced the officers were prosecuted "because it made headlines during a political campaign."

At the time of the indictments last January, Mayor Martin O'Malley was running for governor. O'Malley, known for his advocacy of the Police Department, has had a contentious relationship with Baltimore City State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

"It's very discouraging for police officers to know that they can go through something like this," Blair said.

Although Hatley and Shaffer were charged with rape, the alleged victim testified at Jones' trial that Jones was the only person who had sex with her.

In a statement to police given the day after the alleged rape, the woman did not say that Hatley and Shaffer had anything to do with her encounter with Jones.

The woman gave another statement later that day, in the presence of Assistant State's Attorney JoAnne Stanton, the division chief of the prosecutors' sex crimes unit.

A transcript of that statement shows that the person who suggested Hatley's and Shaffer's involvement was Stanton. She asked the woman, "So all three of them were in the office and talking about sex?" The woman replied, "Yeah."

The woman then told Stanton that Hatley decided not to have sex with the woman's younger girlfriend, who also was under arrest at the station, because she looked too young.

About two weeks before Jones' trial began Jan. 11, Stanton re-interviewed the woman. The woman admitted she had not heard Hatley or Shaffer say anything about having sex with the younger woman, an exculpatory statement that Stanton then had to disclose to defense attorneys.

"For a year, we had been asking to clarify what exactly [the woman] heard our clients say," said Marc L. Zayon, Shaffer's attorney. "The whole case against them was what she heard them say. And we come to find out that there was nothing. Their lives were destroyed for nothing."

Hatley and Shaffer have been suspended without pay for a year. Shaffer's wife, Erin, a Baltimore County schoolteacher, said both couples had to rely on family and friends for support.

At times, both couples were barely scraping by, Erin Shaffer said. She said she never thought she would have to scramble to gather money to bail her husband out of jail.

Hatley said both he and Shaffer were transported in shackles from the jail to the Circuit Courthouse after their arrests. Shaffer said they listened to the taunts of men that they recently had arrested.

Blair said the pair will quickly return to salaried positions with the Police Department, though he expected they would be assigned to administrative duties until the conclusion of an internal police probe.

The union has paid the legal bills for Hatley, Shaffer and Jones, Blair said.

Shaffer, a Pennsylvania State University graduate, had been an officer for about 4 1/2 years before his suspension. After being charged with rape, "for a long time I was just lost. I didn't know what I was going to do."

Shaffer said he will work for Baltimore City for now, but he has applied to police departments in Pennsylvania, his home state. Hatley, who had been on the force for three years, said he wants to remain an officer. Both said they worried that they will carry the stigma of the rape charges forever. "People will assume that we beat the charges," Hatley said.

The officers spoke yesterday about the frustration of watching as dozens of their investigations unraveled because of the charges.

Prosecutors dropped more than 100 cases last year, saying they could not call flex squad officers to testify as witnesses because of the rape charges.

The officers said they know of at least one man they had arrested who went on to become a suspect in a homicide after charges against him were dropped.

"The people of Baltimore deserve accountability," said Zayon. "Why is it that these officers were prosecuted with no evidence, but cases with strong evidence, that they investigated, were summarily dismissed?"

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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