One week out, the indictments of seven Baltimore police officers on federal racketeering charges are already having wide-reaching consequences on Baltimore City’s criminal justice system. For public defenders in the city, the indictments have affected “a little over 100 cases so far,” Deputy District Public Defender Natalie Finegar said in an interview.
Just today, two of the Office of the Public Defender’s cases tied to the officers were dismissed, and another with a March 16 trial date was dismissed yesterday, said Finegar, who is second-in-command of the OPD’s Baltimore district.
These are just three of dozens of cases that could be tossed out because of the behavior of the arresting officers, formerly members of the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force. An indictment announced last week alleges the septet stole from citizens and suspects alike, falsified paperwork, fraudulently claimed overtime while on vacation and committed other offenses. Six of them are also accused of participating in a drug dealing conspiracy.
All seven officers were charged with federal racketeering conspiracy. Six of them are also charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin. Each pleaded not guilty and has been detained without bail.
Shortly after they were charged, the Office of the Public Defender established a hotline — 410-914-7858 — for people who were arrested by any of the seven officers. An OPD spokeswoman said so far, they’ve received about 120 calls about open and closed cases. (The office also has a Google Doc to fill out.)
Finegar said it’s too early to tell if the outcomes of many cases will change, but she noted, “I would not be surprised if there is a case from the past that is going to have the same types of allegations that were in the indictment.”
In one case thrown out this week, former Safe Streets violence interrupter Albert Brown of Park Heights was arrested by four of the officers last August and charged with gun and drug offenses. He said he was fired as a result of the arrest.
When the State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed the case this week, Brown claimed the four officers planted the evidence. A police body cam video from one of the officers showed one of them saying he had just shut off his body camera, a violation of department policy.
Baltimore Police spokesman T.J. Smith issued a statement in response to those allegations, saying police are investigating the body cam video but “have no information related to this case that any evidence was planted.”
Finegar said for many of the 100-plus cases tied to the indicted officers, her public defenders are most concerned about clients who have been detained on high bail and remain behind bars because they can’t afford to pay.
“We are anxious in cases where it’s clear that the state is not going to be able to move forward in the case, that they can be brought as early as possible and dismissed,” she said.
As in Brown’s case, three or four of the indicted officers were the sole necessary witnesses. “The state needs their testimony to go forward with the case,” she said.
The State’s Attorney’s Office of Baltimore City hasn’t responded to a message asking how many cases its prosecutors have dropped as a result of the indictments.
The 100-plus cases affected so far are only those of public defenders. Finegar says there will be many more in which defendants hired private lawyers. “Private defense attorneys are walking up to me and saying, ‘I have one, I have one,’” she said.
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