A Baltimore police officer was charged yesterday with assault after he allegedly punched an undercover detective who was posing as a man waiting to buy drugs - a sting set up by detectives investigating a citizen complaint against the officer, according to documents filed in court.
The officer, Jerome K. Hill, 35, has been suspended without pay. Hill, a four-year veteran, was charged with second-degree assault, a misdemeanor. He posted $25,000 bail and was released from the Central Booking and Intake Center. The Middle River resident could not be reached for comment.
"A serious allegation was made, and we investigate it all the way," said Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for both the city police and Mayor Sheila Dixon. "There is not room in this Police Department for people who aren't committed to the crime fight."
Clifford said detectives with the department's Internal Investigations Division focused on Hill more than a month ago because of a prior "serious allegation" by a citizen made against him.
In charging documents filed in District Court, police described in detail the sting they used to lure the officer to a street corner in Southeast Baltimore on Thursday night - an operation set up by the department's secretive "integrity-testing unit."
Officers chose the first block of North Clinton St., northeast of Patterson Park, to conduct the sting. An undercover detective - John Ferinde - got out of a car and stood on the southwest corner of Clinton and Noble streets while colleagues with video cameras recorded the scene.
Shortly before 6 p.m., another detective, pretending to be a citizen, called an emergency dispatcher with a complaint of a suspicious person - "a white male wearing a green coat" - who appeared to be waiting to buy drugs at Clinton and Noble.
About 10 minutes later, the dispatcher assigned the call to Hill. Five minutes later, Hill arrived at the corner in his marked patrol unit, joined by another officer who came as backup in another car.
"Officer Hill, without provocation, then struck Detective Ferinde on his left lower jaw with a closed fist," the charging documents say.
The other officer, Jacqueline Torres, forced the undercover detective to the ground while Hill attempted to handcuff him, according to the documents. Police said additional internal affairs detectives quickly arrived at the scene, disarmed both Hill and Torres and took them to downtown headquarters for questioning.
Torres was not charged with a crime; Hill was later transported to the Central Booking and Intake Center for charging, police officials said. Charging documents say he did not make a statement.
Paul M. Blair Jr., president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said officers who are members of the police union automatically have access to union-sponsored defense attorneys whenever they are charged with a crime, though the board of directors has to approve representation for an officer facing a felony charge.
"He's entitled to his day in court, just like any other citizen," Blair said. He said it would be "an embarrassment" for the department if the allegations against Hill proved true.
A spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office said prosecutors will review all of Hill's pending cases in which he is involved as a witness to determine if any cases can proceed without his testimony. An estimate on how many pending cases involved Hill was not immediately available yesterday.
North Clinton Street, where Hill was arrested, is known for problems with drug dealing and prostitution. Residents said Hill had a reputation as a tough officer who was willing to confront people on the street.
He also had a nickname - "Toy Cop" - though none of the residents seems to remember how he got it.
"That's just what everyone calls him," said Desiree Rodriguez, who has lived in the neighborhood for eight years. Her front door and window bear handwritten signs warning loiterers and drug dealers to stay away from her steps. A dog barked inside the home, and a baby could be heard crying.
Rodriguez said Hill had once called her at home to ask whether a friend of hers had permission to sit on her steps.
But Rodriguez and some of her neighbors also said that police routinely rough up youths in the area. She said Hill and other officers often told residents to go back into their houses for no obvious reason and strictly enforced a rule inscribed on a lamppost sign that says, "No Ball Playing."
Charles Wolferman, a one-year resident of North Clinton Street, sharply condemned the police, even as he said he has a cousin on the force.
"I see cops around here every day harassing people for no reason," said Wolferman, who does maintenance work on houses for a living. "They think that if you're a cop, you can do anything you want, but you can't."
Wolferman said that while working on a house nearby two years ago with his son, who was then 14, a police officer responding to a call about drug activity in the area pointed a gun in his son's face and "threatened to hit me."
"It's very wrong that people are getting harassed around here," he said.
Melissa Techentin, president of the Southeastern District Police-Community Relations Council, said she has never fielded complaints about Hill from residents, but she has worked with police commanders to address issues with other officers in the past.
Case in which officers are charged with a crime make it "harder for the cop who is out there giving 110 percent and has to deal with people who distrust the police," Techentin said. "There is no business that has perfect employees. It saddens me that no one came up to me and told me we may have had a problem here."