Misconduct irks city prosecutor

The Baltimore Sun

It was a painful moment for Baltimore's chief narcotics prosecutor when he recently dismissed drug-dealing charges against three men and said in court that they were not guilty.

Assistant State's Attorney Antonio Gioia later said the case was tainted by dishonest police work by two veteran police officers, who he believes lied in court documents to justify the arrests, and at least two others.

Concerned that the Baltimore Police Department was slow to act, Gioia and his team of prosecutors launched their own investigation into Detective Deryl Turner and Sgt. Allen Adkins.

He said the investigation uncovered enough evidence of wrongdoing to ban the officers from testifying in court, and prosecutors are now dropping all cases in which their testimony is crucial to winning a conviction.

"After my review of the investigation, it is my conclusion that their credibility and integrity have been irrevocably compromised," State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy wrote in an April 7 letter to Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III.

Gioia's investigation bypassed the way police misconduct allegations are typically handled, through the department's internal investigations division and the state's attorney's police misconduct division.

Police officials refused to comment, but the effect of the prosecutor's unusual probe is that Adkins and Turner were transferred from an aggressive drug-fighting unit to one in which their chances of being needed as witnesses are minimal.

Gioia said the officers found cocaine hidden under a second-floor vent in one of the suspect's homes, but that the search was done without a warrant and thus was illegal. To make the arrests of Lloyd and Clement Bharrat and Sam Woods pass muster, the officers falsely wrote that they saw them participate in a street-level drug deal and found the narcotics hidden near a fence, Gioia said.

"My posture is one and done," Gioia said of lying. "I'm not going to tolerate any police misconduct in the performance of law enforcement duties. The ends simply do not justify the means."

A former defense lawyer for 16 years, Gioia has made investigations that have resulted in two other officers being put on Jessamy's "do not call" list of police witnesses, though he says he does not investigate all complaints. He said he chose to pursue Adkins and Turner after allegations mounted, and defense attorneys in two cases presented him with videotape evidence that appeared to back up their allegations.

From there, in his free time and on weekends, Gioia, 52, and his team began to build a case, visiting crime scenes, securing additional photographic evidence and interviewing other police officers, witnesses and the defendants making the allegations, their defense attorneys said.

Paul Blair, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, the union that represents city officers, declined to comment on Adkins and Turner, but he said punishing officers this way was unfair.

"I'm sorry to say, but I've been told by our counsel that [Jessamy] has the right to say to Officer A or B, 'I'm not going to bring any of your cases forward,' " Blair said. "The problem the union has with it is that there's a difference if an officer has been convicted of something. For her then to say, because of his conviction, she's doing this, that's one thing. But officers have [been banned from testifying] who have been cleared by internal affairs and have no civil or criminal charges pending."

Both officers declined to comment for this article. Blair, of the police union, said he doubted allegations against officers who have never been criminally charged.

"One thing that gets you fired quickly is when you're charged with making a false statement," Blair said. "If they can prove officers outright lied and perjured themselves, then fire them. People can make accusations, but unless they're convicted, then should they not be presumed innocent? Everybody believes we're guilty until proven innocent."

But Gioia said that police should be held to a higher standard than civilians.

"Proof beyond a reasonable doubt shouldn't be the standard of proof for police," he said. "I would be derelict in my responsibility if I took no action when I had what I believed was substantial evidence of misconduct that may or may not arise to proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

Adkins and Turner arrested the Bharrat brothers and Woods shortly before midnight Sept. 18.

Turner wrote in charging documents that he watched Clement Bharrat, 21, cross the 1400 block of Ramsay St. in Southwest Baltimore, remove a blue bag from his jacket, hide it by a fence and return to the other side of the street. After "several more minutes" passed, a man and a woman approached the brothers and Woods. Lloyd Bharrat, 22, took their money, and Woods, 22, crossed the street, retrieved "items" from the blue bag, and returned to make the exchange, Turner wrote.

The Police Department's camera, at the southwest corner of Ramsay and Stricker streets, showed otherwise, Woods' defense attorney, Gary Woodruff, said.

"If you view the pole camera footage, there doesn't appear to be anyone there," Woodruff said. "There was very little activity, and certainly nobody walking back and forth across the street."

Woodruff said that Adkins, a 23-year veteran, and Turner found the drugs inside Woods' home.

Charging documents, however, do not mention police entering the house. Turner, a 16-year veteran, wrote that Adkins recovered the blue bag, containing 180 locked plastic bags filled with cocaine, from the fence across the street. Gioia dropped the case against Woods and the Bharrats two weeks ago.

After a similar investigation, he dropped another drug case against sisters Jennell and Shaketa Causey in April.

Jennell Causey, 27, admits to having less than two grams of marijuana and less than a gram of powdered cocaine stashed on her body on Jan. 24 when she walked into the Ravens House bar in Brooklyn about 8 p.m.

Her attorney, Christie Needleman, said charging documents were falsified to justify an illegal and violent strip search of her client in the tiny bathroom at the back of the bar. The next day, from jail, internal affairs photographed her injuries and sent her to Mercy Medical Center for a forensic rape exam, Needleman said.

On the witness stand during a preliminary hearing in March and in charging documents, Adkins said that he watched Jennell and Shaketa, 22, sell drugs out of the back door of the Ravens House before the strip searches and arrests.

But Needleman said that videotapes from the bar show that Jennell never walked to the back of the bar until Adkins handcuffed her and led her there. She also said that her client was struggling to breathe after being "slammed" on the bathroom floor and had a knee pressed to her throat.

"She couldn't have tried to 'hide or discard' the drugs because her hands were cuffed behind her back during the entire ordeal," Needleman said.

Shaketa Causey said that a bar employees had turned off the jukebox and patrons could hear her sister screaming that she couldn't breathe.

Needleman said that she represents several other clients who allege that one of the officers planted guns or drugs on them or conducted illegal strip searches. But she said videotape evidence is critical to having police and prosecutors take the allegations seriously.

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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