Baltimore prosecutors reviewing cases involving police officer

Baltimore prosecutors are reviewing cases involving suspended police officer.

Baltimore prosecutors are reviewing open cases involving a city police officer amid questions about his credibility, as more than 20 defense lawyers have joined forces in a rare effort to obtain his internal-affairs records.

Officer Fabien Laronde was suspended after an off-duty incident in October and is prohibited from entering the city courthouse after a separate incident in November. He also has been accused of illegally strip-searching a man in a civil case the city settled for $155,000 and accosting a court clerk in another case in which a jury awarded $40,000 in damages.

City prosecutors are now analyzing the evidence in "each and every case" that's open and pending and involves Laronde "to determine the viability of those cases," said Rochelle Ritchie, a spokeswoman for State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby.

Ritchie said she did not know how many cases would be reviewed. Officers often are called to testify in criminal cases, and are instrumental in gathering evidence.

Laronde could not be reached for comment, and Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, did not respond to a request for comment through a spokeswoman.

The Baltimore Police Department did not respond to requests for comment. Police have not released information about the October incident at a convenience store that led to Laronde's suspension.

In a motion filed last week in Baltimore Circuit Court, more than 20 defense lawyers said they are seeking Laronde's internal-affairs files, citing "a multitude of incidents that raise questions about his credibility," including allegations he omitted key information under oath.

According to the motion, Baltimore Judge Paul E. Alpert wrote to the state's attorney's office about a case "in which it is alleged he materially omitted information in a criminal trial in which he was testifying under oath."

The lawyers seeking the records, including private attorneys and public defenders, say Laronde's files are likely to reveal evidence they can use in their clients' criminal trials. Those cases involve Laronde in his capacity as a police officer, and drug and weapons charges against the attorneys' clients.

One of them, attorney Ivan Bates, wrote to Mosby's office last week to request that prosecutors dismiss all criminal cases in which Laronde participated.

Bates wrote that strained relations between the Police Department and citizens have "challenged our city in unprecedented ways this past year."

"Choosing to be transparent and provide the requested files and choosing to take a stand and refrain from vouching for and relying on Officer Laronde will communicate that your office is committed to turning the tide," he wrote.

Bates also represents Sgt. Alicia D. White, one of the six officers charged by Mosby's office in the death of Freddie Gray.

Internal records related to a police officer's misconduct are not publicly available. Such files may include information about citizen complaints and the outcomes of internal disciplinary proceedings.

Bates called the effort to obtain Laronde's records "an unprecedented move by the defense bar."

A hearing for the motion has not been scheduled.

Ritchie said Mosby's office notifies defense attorneys when a "potential credibility issue" is included in an officer's file with the Police Department's Internal Affairs Division.

"When a police officer's IAD file contains otherwise confidential information about a potential credibility issue, the Office of the State's Attorney advises defense counsel in writing," Ritchie said. "In accordance with the law, the issue is then litigated and a judge determines whether any materials in a police officer's IAD file should be turned over to defense."

Last year in a 5-2 ruling, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that internal records related to a police officer's misconduct are personnel records that cannot be disclosed to the public and are exempt from the state's Public Information Act.

City solicitor George Nilson said personnel files "are generally confidential."

"They're not public records," Nilson said. "And you've got to have special reasons and special circumstances and the court's okay to get stuff out of them."

The motion also seeks the release of internal-affairs files for Officer Valentine Nagovich, who has worked cases with Laronde. It cites a 2014 court filing in which U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake wrote that certain police reports written by Nagovich and a city police sergeant "reveal unacceptable behavior by members of the Baltimore City Police Department, including a warrantless home search."

Nagovich could not be reached for comment

According to a letter public defender Deborah K. Levi wrote to Circuit Judge Marcus Shar regarding the motion from Bates and the other defense attorneys, there have been "inconsistent" Baltimore court rulings about whether the files can be turned over as discovery in court proceedings. In some cases, the files were produced, and in others, they were withheld.

"The reason that the lawyers got together on it was because really it was just inefficient because the court was having the same hearings over and over…and there were varying results," said Andy Alperstein, one of the attorneys who signed on to the motion.

"The wider question, I think, is if it's appropriate for the state to continue to call him as a witness," he added, referring to Laronde.

In December, Laronde was banned from the city courthouse after a November incident in which he was accused of filming a witness and WBAL reporter Jayne Miller in the hallway the day of a hearing about his internal affairs file. Photography is prohibited inside the courthouse.

Laronde, who's been with the department since 2001, earned more than $100,000 with overtime last year.

After a 2008 incident in which a man claimed Laronde and two other officers illegally detained and strip-searched him in from of his wife and children, the city settled a lawsuit for $155,000. In such agreements, neither the city nor the officers admit wrongdoing.

In 2012, a jury found Laronde and another officer civilly liable and awarded a court clerk $40,000 in damages after the clerk claimed Laronde and the officer accosted him at the courthouse and accused him of being a gang member.

In another case in 2013, the city paid $1,500 to a man who accused Laronde of stealing $770 from him during an arrest in 2011.

"When you see consistent, repeated behavior that is not acceptable and becoming of a law enforcement officer, it needs to be addressed," said attorney Windy Ortega, who represents a defendant charged with drug possession.

City prosecutors have previously reviewed cases amid allegations of misconduct. For instance, in 2013, they said they would review cases involving Officer Kendell Richburg, who pleaded guilty to an armed drug conspiracy charge in federal court. Richburg was accused of conspiring with a drug informant to support the informant's drug dealing and increase the number of arrests he made.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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