In 2003, a federal judge said in a blistering rebuke that Baltimore Police Detective Thomas E. Wilson III had filed an affidavit that seemed full of “knowing lies.” Ten years later, the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office charged him with perjury, alleging he lied on a search warrant affidavit in another case.
Wilson was acquitted of that charge and has denied wrongdoing. He’s now a sergeant with the Baltimore Police Department, and continues to be involved with dozens of arrests each year, court records show.
His continued presence on the streets presents a challenge for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office when those cases come to court, with the office seeking to bring forward cases deemed valid — but without involving Wilson.
At a hearing in one such case Friday, Assistant State’s Attorney J. Christoph Amberger said, “We certainly have credibility issues with the officer.”
“The state believes the case can be made simply on the testimony of” another officer who took part in the arrest and wrote the statement of probable cause, Amberger said.
Not so fast, said assistant public defender Rachel Bennett. Body camera footage showed Wilson was key to the arrest. He was training the arresting officer, Eugene Moise, dictating observations regarding the suspects and instructing Moise on how to handle the case.
Bennett said there are questions about the legality of the stop performed by Wilson and Moise, which turned up drugs and a gun. She said the vehicle was pulled over for having excessive window tint, and that her client was the subject of a “prolonged, illegal detention.”
“The state shouldn’t be allowed to say we’re not using this officer, and then use his observations through the mouth of another officer,” Bennett said.
Asked about Wilson’s continued role in street work despite prosecutors’ concerns, police spokesman T.J. Smith said: “The allegations have been adjudicated and we have no mechanism to revisit them.”
“Police officers are afforded due process by the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights,” Smith said. “The Police Commissioner cannot arbitrarily terminate or discipline police officers regarding allegations from the past that have already been adjudicated.”
The agency did not respond to a request for comment on Wilson’s behalf about the allegations he has faced, as police policy prohibits officers speaking to the media without approval.
The case is the latest in a flare-up between defense attorneys and prosecutors over the disclosure of internal affairs files for detectives, which are tightly guarded but provided to attorneys if the information can be used to impeach an officer’s credibility. But prosecutors withhold the files when they don’t intend to call the officers as witnesses, causing attorneys to cry foul.
Prosecutors say under State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s administration they have “expanded the criteria for disclosure of internal affairs files and been the most progressive and transparent administration in terms of discovery.” It was not clear whether they have a blanket policy not to call Wilson.
Under former State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy, prosecutors had a “do not call” list of officers they deemed to have credibility problems. Prosecutors refused to bring their cases forward in court, prompting police to sideline the officers. Jessamy’s successor Gregg Bernstein abolished the list, part of his campaign platform, and said he would evaluate cases one-by-one.
In an interview last week, Bernstein said his office’s policy was, as it appears to remain under Mosby, to try to find “workarounds” to still bring the cases.
“We would analyze each one, and try to determine whether there were workarounds — could we proceed without the officer's testimony,” Bernstein said. “If we thought we had a provable case, we didn’t just want to dismiss it because of a particular integrity issue. Instead we'd try to figure out how to work around.”
But Mosby’s office reiterated Friday that they are considering bringing back a do not call list “in light of several incidents that have directly called into question the trustworthiness of several officers and has affected hundreds of criminal cases.” Mosby first said she was considering such a move in August, amid controversy over manipulated body camera footage.
Defense attorney Howard Cardin sat in the audience at Friday’s hearing. He represents the co-defendant of Bennett’s client, and said he had no idea about Wilson’s history. He stood up at the end of the hearing and asked to join Bennett’s motion.
Bennett knew to seek Wilson’s internal affairs file because she had viewed it in a prior case. Attorneys can’t continue to use a file on an officer in future cases and instead have to obtain it on a case-by-case basis.
The federal judge who rebuked Wilson was Andre Davis, who went on to become a judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and is now city solicitor.
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Davis called Wilson's account of a drug bust "implausible and incredibly presented" before throwing out the case, and lectured on how police were bringing poor cases because they were too preoccupied with battling the then-state’s attorney.
The Police Department disciplined Wilson for neglect of duty for that case, stripped him of five days' pay and ordered him to remedial training. But Wilson said he was being honest, and his attorney told The Baltimore Sun in 2010 that the administrative trial board did not convict Wilson of an integrity violation.
Then, in 2013, city prosecutors charged Wilson with perjury and misconduct in office, saying he lied when he said he saw a suspect leaving a house carrying a black bag. Surveillance video showed no such bag. A city jury acquitted Wilson of all charges, and his attorney said the video was a “red herring” that missed critical moments.
On Friday, Bennett asked Circuit Court Judge John Nugent to rule that the city should turn over Wilson’s internal affairs files. Nugent did not issue a ruling. At one point he asked Amberger, the prosecutor: “How do you respond that [Moise] was being dictated by Sgt. Wilson?”
“The question is, is he a puppet? Does he have no independent means of observation?” Amberger said.
“This officer was criminally charged by the State’s Attorney’s Office, and a federal judge ... found ‘knowing lies.’ I’m not sure I can think of a stronger showing of a need to inspect” the internal affairs files, Nugent said.