Pros­e­cu­tors want flex­i­bil­ity to undo tainted con­vic­tions

Af­ter Gun Trace Task Force scan­dal, state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice seeks more lat­i­tude

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Justin Fen­ton

The Baltimore state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice told a state com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Po­lice Depart­ment’s Gun Trace Task Force scan­dal that it wanted in­creased pow­ers to undo tainted con­vic­tions, say­ing judges have blocked their ef­forts to over­turn cases they could no longer stand be­hind.

City pros­e­cu­tors con­tinue to re­view more than 2,000 cases in­volv­ing of­fi­cers con­victed of fed­eral rack­e­teer­ing charges as well as oth­ers ac­cused of mis­con­duct by con­victed of­fi­cers. They’ve moved to over­turn 150 of those cases, but in about 30 of them, judges blocked them on pro­ce­dural grounds.

Chief coun­sel Tony Gioia said that while a case was pend­ing, pros­e­cu­tors had ab­so­lute dis­cre­tion to drop or con­tinue pur­su­ing it. But that changes once a con­vic­tion and sen­tence have been im­posed, Gioia said.

“When we have such an ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stance like the Gun Trace Task

Force, we should have the same dis­cre­tion post-judg­ment as we do pre-judg­ment to deal with po­lice mis­con­duct,” Gioia told the com­mis­sion in An­napo­lis.

“Some peo­ple are be­ing treated fairly, and some peo­ple are not be­ing treated fairly,” added Deputy State’s At­tor­ney Janice Bled­soe.

The com­mis­sion, with mem­bers ap­pointed by Gov. Larry Ho­gan and lead­ers of the Gen­eral Assem­bly, was cre­ated by the leg­is­la­ture last year to in­ves­ti­gate the Gun Trace Task Force scan­dal, in­clud­ing its ori­gins and ways to ad­dress the root causes.

Eight of­fi­cers who worked on the elite gun unit were charged af­ter a fed­eral wire­tap in­ves­ti­ga­tion with rob­bing ci­ti­zens, ly­ing on pa­per­work and con­duct­ing il­le­gal searches. Some of the of­fi­cers sold drugs they had taken off the street, while oth­ers ad­mit­ted com­mit­ting rob­beries stretch­ing back sev­eral years.

Mem­bers of the pros­e­cu­tors’ of­fice on Mon­day de­fended the fact that they had not been aware of the of­fi­cers’ crim­i­nal con­duct be­fore the in­dict­ments, say­ing the mis­deeds far ex­ceeded what was fore­see­able to of­fi­cials.

“One of the things I’m strug­gling with as a com­mis­sion mem­ber: No one seems to want to say, ‘Yeah, we heard about these guys,’ and no­body wants to say, ‘We should’ve known’ … Where was the break­down?” asked com­mis­sion mem­ber Gary McLhin­ney.

Chief Deputy State’s At­tor­ney Michael Schat­zow noted that the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion grew out of a drug case in which one of the of­fi­cers was in­ter­cepted on a wire­tap, in­stead of com­plaints.

“I think that’s an im­por­tant fact in look­ing at this, be­cause it’s not as if peo­ple in Baltimore City were asleep and the feds were in­ves­ti­gat­ing what we should’ve been in­ves­ti­gat­ing,” Schat­zow said. “It would be hard to imag­ine that a sworn po­lice of­fi­cer would en­gage in [this type of con­duct] once, let alone have that be the ba­sis of a ca­reer. So, it’s dif­fi­cult to con­tem­plate.”

The pros­e­cu­tors avoided specifics re­gard­ing ques­tions that had been raised about the of­fi­cers prior to the in­dict­ments. Schat­zow men­tioned an in­stance in 2015 when for­mer De­tec­tive Jemell Rayam was deemed un-cred­i­ble by a cir­cuit judge.

“We cer­tainly knew about that, the whole world knew that, and we re­ported that to” in­ter­nal af­fairs, Schat­zow said. But it was un­clear what steps pros­e­cu­tors took to ad­dress Rayam’s cred­i­bil­ity prob­lem as he con­tin­ued work­ing in the elite unit.

City pros­e­cu­tors do not main­tain a “do not call” list of prob­lem of­fi­cers that ef­fec­tively forces the Po­lice Depart­ment to take them off the streets. For­mer State’s At­tor­ney Pa­tri­cia Jes­samy main­tained such a list, which was abol­ished by her suc­ces­sor, Gregg Bern­stein. While pro­gres­sive dis­trict at­tor­neys across the coun­try have been im­ple­ment­ing what Jes­samy had in place a decade ago, State’s At­tor­ney Mar­i­lyn Mosby’s ad­min­is­tra­tion says it con­tin­ues to con­sider the pro­posal.

“I can as­sure you that once that in­forma- tion is re­ported,” Schat­zow told the com­mis­sion, “it is dealt with very se­ri­ously.”

In the mean­time, pros­e­cu­tors say they are work­ing more closely with po­lice to re­view al­le­ga­tions and case files, and pro­vide doc­u­ments to de­fense at­tor­neys seek­ing to use them to im­peach the cred­i­bil­ity of of­fi­cers. The pub­lic de­fender’s of­fice has said the process con­tin­ues to come up short.

Bled­soe said pros­e­cu­tors have looked at about 4,000 in­ter­nal af­fairs files.

“The crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem in Baltimore is in trou­ble,” Schat­zow said. “It is not trusted by the com­mu­nity be­cause it’s not per­ceived to be fair and just. And it won’t be per­ceived to be fair and just un­til it be­comes fair and just, and it won’t be fair and just un­til ev­ery­one work­ing in it … are work­ing in a trans­par­ent way to bring about jus­tice.”

For their part, Schat­zow said, city pros­e­cu­tors “feel as though we’ve been do­ing that.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.