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Charges dropped against former lead detective in Phylicia Barnes case

Charges dropped against former lead detective in Phylicia Barnes case
City prosecutors dropped the remaining charge against Daniel T. Nicholson, the former lead detective in the Phylicia Barnes murder case. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby dropped the remaining charge against the former lead detective in the Phylicia Barnes murder case, who had been accused of assaulting people after forcing his way into a home in a search for his missing daughter.

The allegations against Detective Daniel T. Nicholson IV date to April 2012, but a jury acquitted him of a count of second-degree assault and another of fourth-degree burglary at a trial in 2014. One remaining count of second-degree assault was dismissed Friday afternoon.

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In an unusual move, Mosby, and not one of her trial attorneys, personally told the judge that prosecutors were dropping the case. In a statement afterward, she said, "From the beginning, I've had concerns about the case."

"After further review of the facts, and knowing that a jury had already acquitted Detective Daniel Nicholson, I [dropped] the remaining charge to uphold my oath and promise to the citizens of Baltimore" to restore faith in the justice system, Mosby said.

Nicholson's attorney, Matthew Fraling, said the decision was "prudent" and a "vindication of Detective Nicholson and his efforts to locate his daughter who had gone missing."

Nicholson, a 20-year veteran, has been suspended with pay — which is standard because the charges were misdemeanors — since the allegations surfaced and remains with the Baltimore Police Department. His status with the department should be determined shortly.

Nicholson was appointed lead detective in the search for Barnes, a North Carolina teenager who disappeared from her sister's Northwest Baltimore apartment in December 2010. Months later, her body was found in the Susquehanna River.

A year later, Nicholson embarked on a frantic search for his own missing daughter, and was accused of forcing his way into a Northeast Baltimore apartment and pushing two people. Nicholson previously had been charged in Baltimore County with assaulting his daughter, charges that were dropped after the family agreed to attend counseling.

Two women who were in the apartment said that Nicholson's daughter told them she was being abused and was afraid to go home, prosecutors previously said.

In 2014, a jury acquitted Nicholson of one count of second-degree assault and one count of fourth-degree burglary. The jury deadlocked on a second assault charge, and that case had been scheduled for trial Friday.

Mosby's office did not elaborate on what concerns she had about the case. One of her top deputies, Janice Bledsoe, was the police misconduct prosecutor under previous State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein and had been investigating Nicholson's case before she was dismissed from Bernstein's office. The charges were filed after her departure.

The allegations against Nicholson became fodder for the defense in the murder trial of Michael Maurice Johnson, who was charged with killing Barnes.

Johnson's lawyers questioned Nicholson about the search for his daughter in an attempt to undermine the state's case. Johnson was convicted of second-degree murder, but Judge Alfred Nance overturned the verdict, saying prosecutors had failed to disclose certain evidence.

At his second trial, Judge John Addison Howard dismissed the murder charge, saying the case was circumstantial. Prosecutors refiled the charges, which were dismissed by another judge. The case is being appealed.

Nicholson was not called as a witness at the second trial.

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