Officers' convictions downgraded in misconduct case

A judge has agreed to downgrade the misconduct convictions of two former Baltimore police officers accused of picking up a pair of teenagers and leaving them far from home.

The judge's decision to grant probation before judgment opens the way for Milton Smith and Tyrone Francis to wipe their records clean. The detectives were convicted in 2011, after the first trial personally handled by State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein.

The officers were acquitted on more serious kidnapping charges and given suspended prison sentences, probation and community service.

The officers were accused of picking up two teenagers in West Baltimore at separate times on May 4, 2009, and dropping the first off on the other side of the city and the second without shoes or a phone at Patapsco Valley State Park in Howard County.

Bernstein took a tough stance when the case was in court, saying the detectives had "crossed the line." But defense attorneys criticized the case as politically motivated.

Mark Cheshire, a spokesman for Bernstein, said the state's attorney's office and the victims' families opposed the downgrading of the convictions.

"Given the absence of a sincere apology to the victims as well as a failure to acknowledge their criminal conduct, we are disappointed," Cheshire added.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory's ruling Wednesday replaced the convictions with an outcome of probation before judgment, and the two men will be able to apply to have the cases expunged from their records.

Megan Oleszewski, one of Francis' attorneys, said her client was looking forward to moving on with his life. "He was pleased with the result," she added.

Smith's attorney could not be reached for comment.

A third officer, Gregory Hellen, was cleared of all the charges in the case.

"There was no evidence that Hellen in any way participated in the abductions, other than being in the minivan, but shouldn't that be enough?" Bernstein wrote in a candid email sent to his staff after the trial ended.

All three men have since left the Police Department.

In a parallel civil case stemming from the incident, a jury in January awarded $500,000 to Michael Johnson Jr., one of the teens picked up by the officers. The city, which had previously reneged on a $150,000 settlement deal, is appealing the verdict.

Johnson's attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, said he had no problem with the convictions being downgraded.

"I'm really not vindictive or wishing the officers any harm," he added.

Johnson, too, has a request in with the court for a sentence to be reduced to probation before judgment: He pleaded guilty to a drug charge earlier this year.

Prosecutors had also filed attempted-murder charges against Johnson in connection with the shooting of a man on North Avenue, but they were dropped.

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