The first of two former city public housing workers accused of demanding sexual favors for repair work was acquitted Thursday after the alleged victim who was expected to testify did not appear in court.
Doug Hussy, 62, was cleared of charges of second-degree assault, fourth-degree sex offense, harassment and misconduct in office.
A jury had been picked and opening arguments were slated to go forward Thursday afternoon when prosecutors told Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn that they were unable to reach the alleged victim.
The allegations against Hussy were among several raised by female public housing tenants in 2015 that led to a class-action lawsuit, which the city housing authority settled in January 2016 for up to $8 million. Longtime Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano was later ousted by new Mayor Catherine Pugh.
Hussy's attorney said the state's case was "garbage" and would have failed had it gone forward.
"Once a jury was able to hear the actual facts in this case, they would've come to the same conclusion that we came to: that [the alleged victim] was not telling the truth," defense attorney Latoya Francis-Williams said. "Mr. Hussy did absolutely nothing wrong. He dedicated his life and career to the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, and they threw him under the bus."
The state's attorney's office said they had no choice but to abandon the case when the alleged victim did not show, saying the case rested solely on her testimony. They said lack of cooperation from victims and witnesses contribute to more than 20 percent of felony cases being dropped each year.
"The allegations made in this case are reprehensible, and we were eager to seek justice on this victim's behalf," said Melba Saunders, the spokeswoman for the state's attorney.
Cary Hansel, an attorney who represented the alleged victim in a civil case, said he called her after hearing the case had been dropped and she told him that she could not get her car to start.
"She has made every effort to follow up and be part of the case," said Hansel, adding that he questioned why prosecutors did not seek a postponement.
Prosecutors said once a jury is picked, the state is "limited in its reasoning for requesting a postponement."
More than a dozen women said maintenance workers at several city public housing complexes demanded sex for repairs. When they did not comply, the women said, they were exposed to unsafe living conditions such as mold, lack of heat and risk of electrocution. More than 100 women eventually joined the lawsuit.
The state's attorney's office filed criminal charges against Hussy and a second housing worker, Charles Coleman, in July 2016.
Coleman's trial is scheduled for March 29. Coleman faced significantly more claims in the civil lawsuit than Hussy, and countersued 17 women for defamation, saying they made false allegations for financial gain. His suit was dismissed.
Hussy said he was never asked about the allegations before being fired from his job. He said he had just bought a house and gotten married when the accusations surfaced.
"It turned my life upside down," he said outside the courthouse.
Following the women's allegations, Graziano pledged sweeping changes to ensure all public housing tenants can live in "peace and dignity" without being subjected "to the atrocious behavior of a group of people who inflicted indignity of an indescribable nature."
Conditions of the settlement included firing the alleged abusers, creating 50 additional maintenance positions and coming up with a plan to make repairs to complexes throughout the city, officials have said.
Hansel said the sizable settlement, along with affidavits filed by the housing workers union in the lawsuit, show the victims' claims had merit.
Hansel said women who came forward in the civil case were "extremely concerned about their safety" and were moved to new living accommodations by the Housing Department.
On Thursday afternoon, Assistant State's Attorney Stacyann Llewellyn repeatedly walked in and out of the courtroom with her phone to her ear. She told Phinn that the alleged victim had said she was on her way to the courthouse at 11:15 a.m., but by 1:45 p.m. she had not shown up and could no longer be reached.
Phinn said the case needed to move forward, and prosecutors then rested their case without having put on an opening statement or any testimony. Francis-Williams then made a motion for judgment of acquittal based on the lack of evidence, which Phinn granted.
Francis-Williams said records show that Hussy did not interact with the alleged victim on dates and times that she said she was harassed. The alleged victim also had previous convictions for making false statements to police and lying on documents, Francis-Williams said.
Francis-Williams said prosecutors should not have brought the case.
"Many of us feel like there is a problem with the criminal justice system. We encourage [State's Attorney Marilyn] Mosby to properly assess the weight of her cases," she said.