Advertisement

Baltimore police handle marijuana suspects differently under consent decree, recent court ruling

Deidre Hodge, 18, was among a group of people in a high-crime area of Northwest Baltimore when plainclothes police officers pulled up, sending Hodge and the others running. Officers chased and caught Hodge, and later charged him with gun and marijuana-related offenses.

As the federal consent decree in Baltimore changes how officers do their jobs and as marijuana becomes increasingly decriminalized, Hodge’s case in Baltimore Circuit Court offers some insight into the ongoing challenges facing police officers, how reforms are playing out on the street, and how judges and prosecutors are adjusting to a recent Court of Appeals ruling on marijuana and searches.

Advertisement

On Feb. 15, Baltimore Police Detective Dean McFadden and other members of the department’s District Action Team pulled up to Pepper’s Liquors in the 5400 block of Reisterstown Road —"a high crime area" and known to be an “open drug market," according to testimony at a recent court hearing. After catching Hodge, officers handcuffed him and placed him in leg shackles, according to his attorney, Ivan Bates.

McFadden testified that officers searched Hodge because he ran. They found less than 10 grams of marijuana on him as well as a car key to a Buick. Such small amounts are considered a civil offense, not a criminal offense in Baltimore.

Officers also found other baggies of marijuana in the vicinity, McFadden said.

“The detective I think did what he thought was good detective work. But I think in this case it went a little beyond that."


Share quote & link

With the car key, McFadden started searching for Buicks in the area. He found one that matched, which Bates said belonged to Hodge’s father. From outside the vehicle, McFadden said he could see baggies of marijuana inside the car, prompting officers to search the car. In the trunk they found a backpack with papers with Deidre Hodge’s name and a school picture. They also found a gun.

“So what basis did they have to look further?” said Circuit Judge Edward R. K. Hargadon, questioning the search, according to a recording of the Aug. 26 hearing.

Hargadon noted that McFadden did not testify to seeing Hodge toss the baggies found in the vicinity, police did not find a large amount of cash on his person that might indicate he was selling marijuana and did not witness “hand-to-hand” exchanges of cash and drugs.

As a result, Hargadon found that the officers did not have enough to arrest Hodge because he possessed less than than 10 grams on his body. That is in line with a recent ruling from Maryland’s highest court, which said amounts that small should be treated by citation, not arrest. Without a basis to arrest Hodge or anyone else with so little marijuana, police should not have searched the car.

“You have to have something, a little more than that," the judge said.

Ultimately, the judge granted a defense motion to dismiss the case against Hodge because police did not have probable cause to search the car, meaning the marijuana and gun they found can’t be admitted.

“The detective I think did what he thought was good detective work,” Hargadon said. “But I think in this case it went a little beyond that."

Hargadon cited the recent Maryland Court of Appeals opinion that the smell of marijuana alone is not enough justification for law enforcement to search a person.

Hodge’s attorney, Bates, said the case should never have gone before a judge in the first place, and said it is an example of how police and prosecutors continue to wrongly arrest and charge people even though both agencies have promised reforms.

The Baltimore Police Department entered into a consent decree in April 2017 with the federal government after a U.S. Justice Department investigation found city officers routinely violated citizens’ constitutional rights. The investigation was prompted in part by the arrest and death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody in April 2015.

“It’s the same exact statement of facts of Freddie Gray," Bates said.

Advertisement

Police in the Gray case said officers gave chase because he ran in an area known for drug dealing. A police report said Gray “fled unprovoked” and that officers later found what they said was an illegal switchblade knife.

In addition to the ongoing reforms under the consent decree, which is expected to take years to implement, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced just before Hodge’s arrest in February that her office would no longer prosecute marijuana cases.

“This case should’ve never made it that far,” said Bates, noting the state’s attorney’s office’s policy change.

McFadden said officers will chase someone who runs — an “unprovoked flight” — in a high-crime area in order to investigate. Officers will stop the person to determine whether a crime has occurred, he said. Vehicles are often used as a “safe spot” so alleged dealers can keep a lesser amount of marijuana on their person to avoid criminal charges, he said.

Zy Richardson, a spokeswoman with the state’s attorney’s office, said police and prosecutors were following the law.

“Consistent with Supreme Court law and the ruling of the trial court, the consent decree does not prohibit officers from making an investigatory stop or detention when a person in a high-crime area flees from the police,” she said.

Police spokesman Matt Jablow declined to comment on the case.

During the hearing, Bates asked McFadden about the consent decree and had him read a section in open court that refers to stops, searches and arrests. Specifically, the consent decree says the department will prohibit officers from stopping someone based on their location, “such as presence in a high crime area,” and based “only on an individual’s response to the presence of police officers, such as an individual’s attempt to avoid contact with an officer,” the document says.

Baltimore Assistant State’s Attorney Lauren Phillips objected to Bates’ questioning.

“I don’t see the relevancy of the consent decree,” Phillips said.

McFadden answered by saying the consent decree has not yet been fully implemented and emphasizing that the department “will” follow such standards. He said training for stops, searches and arrests had not been completed yet.

“You cannot do what you’re not trained on,” he said on the stand.

Bates questioned why the officer chased his client, saying Hodge’s running was not enough.

Advertisement

But McFadden responded that following Hodge was not illegal, and that new policies mandated under the consent decree will raise the standard to something above what the law allows.

Advertisement
Advertisement