Baltimore officer pleads not guilty to drug conspiracy charges

Baltimore police officer Kendell Richburg pleaded not guilty to federal drug charges Tuesday, as his attorney said the accusations are linked to "relatively benign" actions surrounding his use of confidential informants.

"It's nothing close to selling drugs, or giving the confidential informant drugs to sell or anything of that nature," the attorney, Warren A. Brown, said after the hearing. "Whatever behavior he engaged in it was designed to enhance public safety, it was designed to get guns off the street, and sometimes it was designed to please the Police Department."

Richburg, 36, appeared in court Tuesday in a olive drab detention center uniform. He entered his plea as members of his family watched, and agreed to return to jail for the time being.

A federal grand jury returned an indictment against Richburg last Thursday, which was unsealed the following day. Prosecutors accuse Richburg of being part of an armed conspiracy to distribute heroin, crack, cocaine and marijuana between June 2011 and October 2012.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi called any suggestion that the department condoned Richburg's behavior "absolutely ridiculous."

"We're a family that prides itself on public service, and what those allegations did is embarrass everyone who wears the police uniform," he said.

Internal affairs officers at the Baltimore department worked to build the case with the FBI.

Brown contrasted Richburg's case with those of other Baltimore officers who have faced federal charges, pointing to Daniel Redd, who was convicted last year of dealing drugs in the parking lot of the Northwestern District police station.

"I think this is a matter of interpretation as opposed to a question about this officer engaging in ... bona fide criminal behavior for his own sake," Brown said. "It's kind of difficult ... for the officers to play strictly by the rules when their opponent is not, so you've got to kind of get down and dirty at times to achieve certain goals when it comes to interdicting criminal behavior."

Brown had previously represented Richburg in a 2003 Baltimore County arson threat case. The charges were ultimately dropped.

Richburg is a 13-year veteran of the department, police said, and was assigned to the Northwest District's special enforcement section, which handles violent crime.

Mark Cheshire, a spokesman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office, said prosecutors have made no decisions on whether Richburg's indictment will affect cases that he worked on. He is named in at least 41 active cases, according to online court records.

"We will conduct a thorough review of the cases in which the officer is involved, and make decisions on how to proceed on a case-by-case basis," he said.

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