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CASES AGAINST POLICE HALTED

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A group of Southwestern District officers accused of doing nothing to stop an alleged sexual assault at a police station in 2005 are among those cleared after a review of internal misconduct cases by the Baltimore Police Department found that the cases had been mishandled.

Also dropped were administrative charges against several Eastern District officers accused of abusing overtime - in some cases doubling their salaries.

The Police Department has dropped at least 50 cases in the fallout from the April firing of trial board prosecutor JoAnn C. Woodson-Branche, whom police union officials and defense attorneys have accused of manipulating the internal charging process and violating officers' due process rights.

Though police confirmed that the cases had "administrative issues" that required dismissal, they have refused to outline the types of cases or the officers involved, many of whom had been suspended and will likely regain their police powers. But The Baltimore Sun has confirmed that the Southwestern and Eastern District cases were among those dismissed.

The move to drop charges against Steven Hatley, Brian Shaffer, Mohamed Ali II and Valentine Nagovich Jr. apparently brings to a close a tumultuous and ultimately fruitless probe into the Southwestern District's "flex squad," which began when a female suspect accused an officer of raping her in a police station in late 2005.

The police commissioner at the time disbanded the squad, launched audits of flex squads across the city and suspended several officers. Three were indicted on criminal charges, including Hatley and Shaffer. Ultimately, one officer was acquitted of rape, criminal charges against Hatley and Shaffer were dropped, and the city issued a rare public apology in August 2008 to two other officers as part of a settlement in a $1.5 million civil lawsuit.

Quietly, the internal charges against Hatley, Shaffer, Ali and Nagovich stuck. They were accused of "aiding and abetting" Jemini Jones, the officer acquitted of rape, and failing to submit drugs and other contraband to evidence control, among other accusations. Trial boards where the officers sought to clear their names were postponed three times.

The officers' attorney, Neal Janey, said the officers welcome the move to drop the case, but it comes too late. "My four clients never did anything wrong, and they never should have been charged in the first place," he said.

He said a lawsuit, filed last fall and now in federal court, will likely proceed.

In the suit, the officers made sweeping allegations against numerous high-ranking members of the Police Department, accusing them of making false statements in search warrants and leaking information to the news media. They also alleged that the current commissioner, Frederick H. Bealefeld III, became aware of the problems with the case and failed to intervene.

But their complaint also raised allegations that would eventually be cited as the reason behind Woodson-Branche's dismissal, accusing her of falsifying key dates to extend the statute of limitations to charge the officers under the Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights.

They said Woodson-Branche and others knew "full well" that the time frame had elapsed.

Woodson-Branche has not responded to numerous requests for comment.

In a separate case, charges were also dropped against eight Eastern District officers who worked in criminal investigations and were suspended in February 2007 as internal affairs probed "irregularities" with their overtime pay. They were eventually charged internally with theft.

Two of the officers had nearly doubled their base pay, according to salary data reviewed by The Sun at the time. The highest-paid was Sgt. Darryl Massey, whose base salary of $71,361 ballooned to $141,077 with overtime pay, more than Mayor Sheila Dixon took home that year. The charges also came as the department was facing increasing pressure to rein in overtime.

The officers maintained that investigators had failed to take into account the variety of ways police can rack up overtime. Many detectives often collect significant overtime because they are expected to chase leads aggressively in the first few days of a crime. There are other duties, such as locating witnesses, revisiting crime scenes and meeting with prosecutors, they said.

But like the Southwest District officers, they claimed that Woodson-Branche and others had manipulated dates, accusing her of signing off on charges three months before a charging committee reviewed them, in violation of the department's protocols. They filed a motion in Baltimore Circuit Court against the Police Department and Woodson-Branche in September.

Massey, president of the Vanguard Justice Society, a group of black officers, was not available for comment.

The cases were dropped this week as the department settled a 2004 race discrimination lawsuit that calls for an outside consultant to monitor the agency's internal disciplinary process.

The police union has cheered the department's sweeping dismissal of such a large number of cases and has promised to challenge other cases that remain. "This is exactly what we've been asking for," said Michael Davey, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police.

Anthony Guglielmi, the chief police spokesman, said the department has rectified the problem and is "moving forward."

But some want the Police Department to reveal more information about the cases and how the administrative problems were allowed to continue. The Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has urged more transparency and formally asked the FBI to review the situation.

Christie Needleman, a defense attorney, said that it is often difficult for citizens to make complaints against officers and that the public deserves to know what happened to those cases.

"There's at least a handful [of complaints] in there that are very legitimate, and it was likely difficult for people to come forward. I understand need for privacy, but there's a very strong counterbalancing issue of public trust of a police department," she said.

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