Ivan Potts, convicted last year and sentenced to 8 years in prison for a gun charge, had his conviction vacated and case dropped because it was handled by the 7 officers indicted on federal racketeering. (Baltimore Sun video)
At his trial on gun charges last March, it was Ivan Potts' word against the three officers who arrested him.
The jury sided with the officers. Sgt. Wayne Jenkins and Detectives Evodio Hendrix and Maurice Ward said Potts ditched a gun in a Northwest Baltimore alley while running from police.
Potts was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison, the first five without the possibility of parole.
On Wednesday afternoon, the 31-year-old was brought back into a Baltimore courtroom, part of the ripple effect from the federal indictment filed in February against the officers who arrested him.
The officers are accused of robbing citizens, lying on police reports and earning bogus overtime pay.
At the request of prosecutors and Potts' defense attorney, Judge Timothy J. Doory vacated his conviction. Prosecutors then dropped the case.
"From day one, [Potts] maintained his innocence and ... insisted he never had a gun that day," said his defense attorney, public defender Todd Oppenheim.
"You might say he's lucky because of the [officers'] indictments, because there really was no other issue that we could argue. He was out of options."
The Baltimore state's attorney's office has been dropping cases involving the indicted officers. Prosecutors are also reviewing closed cases that relied on the officers' word, and asking judges to vacate those convictions.
Potts makes three convictions vacated so far. Prosecutors have filed motions requesting 22 more be thrown out.
In agreeing to vacate Potts' conviction, Doory made no ruling on his claims that he was wrongly charged. The federal indictment against the officers alleges widespread misconduct but does not accuse the officers of planting evidence on arrestees.
Potts pleaded guilty in 2003 to attempted murder. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison with all but 10 suspended. Since his release, he's had two drug arrests that were dropped by prosecutors, but no other gun charges.
His mother, Kim Melton, said his past had no bearing on the 2015 arrest.
"People make mistakes, but a person's past is their past," she said. With his latest conviction, she said, he lost his job and his home, and was away from his now-5year-old daughter.
"He's always professed that he was innocent, but it was just his word, and our belief, against the system," she said.
Potts rejected a plea deal and took the case to trial. After his conviction, he filed an appeal.
At the Roxbury Institution in Hagerstown in September, he typed up and filed a federal lawsuit alleging the officers had beaten him and then retrieved a gun from an alley and planted it on him.
Potts said in the lawsuit that he was headed to a store on Chelsea Terrace when an unmarked car turned toward him and stopped. Three officers jumped out and asked him to walk over to them, Potts said. They told him they wanted to check him for drugs and guns, he said.
Potts said Jenkins told him to turn around and put his hands on his head so the officers could search him. He said Hendrix and Ward attempted to grab his arms, but he pulled away, and was slammed to the ground. Potts said the three officers began kicking him.
"Potts balled up in an effort to protect vital parts of his body," he wrote. "Officers were kicking and punching Potts at the same time. One officer pulled out a baton and started hitting Potts with it."
Potts said that he was handcuffed. He said and two of the officers entered an alley and emerged with a gun.
"Sgt. Jenkins began smiling and told me that the gun was mine while he laughed and tried to place the handgun in Mr. Potts hand, as if he was trying to put Potts' fingerprints on the gun," Potts wrote.
Potts said he was refused entry at Central Booking because he had a gash on his leg from being hit with a baton and bruises on his ribs, head, and other areas. He was taken to a hospital, where he said he told a nurse what happened and was treated for rib and head contusions and received stitches.
The officers described the incident differently.
Hendrix wrote in a statement of probable cause that he and the other two officers were patrolling a high-crime area when they saw Potts walking with his right hand against his midsection and his left hand "swinging freely."
"Investigators recognized these observations as being characteristics of an armed person," Hendrix wrote. The officers approached Potts, Hendrix said. Potts noticed them, he wrote, and "suddenly pulled a handgun out from his midsection where we observed his right hand."
Police said Potts, with a firearm in his hand, ran into an alley. Ward said he saw Potts toss the handgun and yelled, "He threw it, he threw it."
"Based upon your investigators experience it's a common practice for individuals running from law enforcement to throw the firearm to avoid capture while in possession of a firearm," Hendrix wrote.
The officers said Potts attempted to wedge himself between a metal and wooden fence, then lay down on his stomach and gave up. The officers searched the area and said they found a loaded Ruger handgun in the grass.
The officers said they dropped Potts off at Central Booking and were later contacted about his injuries.
"Potts advised that he cut his leg while fleeing from us ... investigators observed no blood or damage to Potts cargo pants," they wrote. "Potts received stitches for this laceration and also made complaints about hurt ribs, neck and back."
All three officers testified at Potts' trial. Potts did not take the stand. Oppenheim said he was concerned that prosecutors would bring up his previous conviction. But he did present a civilian witness and a friend whose accounts of the incident differed from the police version.
Potts had spent a year in prison when federal authorities announced the indictment against the officers.
Melton, his mother, remembers sitting on her bed and processing the news.
"I said, I wish that one of those police officers was on his case," she recalled. "He called me and said, 'Ma, all three officers were on the case.'"
"It's just a joyous day," she said. "We got victory, because he's free, and I'm happy."
Melton believes juries put too much stock into officers' accounts, and should look for corroborating evidence.
"Anybody who was touched by those officers, I hope that this same thing will happen for them," she said. "This is not just about Ivan. It's about anybody that they did wrong, that they lied on."