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Cops taking hostages

Discussion in 'Legal' started by Norton, Oct 25, 2004.

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  1. Norton

    Norton Member

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    So....what if the cops decide that they want to hold you hostage for a car because you might drink and drive?:fire:


    >>>>An arresting offer: guns for freedom

    By Ryan Davis
    Sun Staff
    Originally published October 25, 2004


    Two police officers dropped the handcuffed man on the brick steps before Sheila Harding's front door, she says.

    From his knees, 23-year-old Richard William Rogers Jr. pleaded to the woman who helped raise him. "They're locking me up," he remembers saying. "But if you give them a gun, they'll let me go."

    It was a startling proposition, Harding says: Trade a gun to avoid a criminal charge.

    Interviews and court documents reveal this is a common deal offered by Baltimore police to the suspects they arrest, usually in minor drug cases. It's so typical that one lieutenant recently declared it a regular procedure within the Police Department's Southern District. And some officers developed forms to complete when conducting such exchanges.

    "That's kidnapping and holding for ransom," says Harding, a 59-year-old South Baltimore resident. "And because they have a badge and a gun, they're allowed to get away with it."

    Guns-for-freedom trades have persisted in Baltimore for years, largely unchecked by police department leaders and entirely unsanctioned by the rest of the criminal justice system. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and residents say it raises serious concerns about the authority being exerted by the Baltimore Police Department.

    The deals aren't legal or enforceable, experts say.

    Residents such as Harding say the practice promotes unwarranted arrests. Criminal defense attorneys say the deals are frequently broken, prompting distrust of police. Prosecutors say police are usurping the power of prosecutors and judges.

    "How is that justice?" asks Cheryl Jacobs, the chief prosecutor of the city state's attorney's narcotic division. "That's not the way our system of justice is set up to work. ... It's laudable to get guns off the street, but this is not the way we go about it."

    Unofficially, officers and supervisors say it can be a good way to get a deadly weapon from someone arrested on a minor charge unlikely to yield punishment.

    'What's the problem?'

    "If you lock up somebody for a joint or one pill, unless they're on probation or parole, what do you think the court is going to do to that guy? They're not going to do anything," says one officer who requested anonymity for fear of retribution. "If you can get a handgun without a foot chase or a pursuit and nobody got hurt, what's the problem?"

    Police say that since being asked about the practice by The Sun, they have begun drafting a policy to ban such deals.

    But some high-ranking commanders defend the intent.

    "It was a worthwhile and beneficial effort to take crime guns off the street," says Maj. Frederick H. Bealefeld III, the Southern District commander. "I can't apologize for our intentions. Our intention was 100 percent public safety."

    Told of the practice, Mayor Martin O'Malley says he had heard about it previously, but it now appears to be more common than he knew. "It's certainly something we can look at," says O'Malley, a former prosecutor, "and certainly something the police commissioner should look at."

    At issue is a basic tenet of policing - discretion.

    One of the best demonstrations of that discretion occurs when police stop a speeder. Officers can let the driver go, issue a formal warning, write a lesser ticket, issue a ticket for the actual speed or make an arrest.

    But gun trades go beyond discretion to negotiation, prosecutors say. Once police arrest, they cannot determine who is set free. They can question suspects, experts say, but in exchange for information or guns, they can offer little more than a promise to put in a good word with prosecutors.

    "This is in a murky area," says professor Abraham Dash, a criminal law professor at the University of Maryland. "They're carrying discretion, I think, a little too far."

    It works like this: Officers will either have a suspect lead them to a gun or allow the suspect a phone call to arrange the drop of a gun, possibly in a trash canister, according to officers and court documents.

    "If it's an ends-justifies-a-means thing, that's problematic," says Eugene O'Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former New York police officer and prosecutor. "That's not our legal system. The means matter in our legal system."

    Officers say top city police officials haven't specifically ordered gun trades, but they revel in the resulting statistics, officers say. Baltimore police seized more than 3,000 guns last year, though it's unclear how many earned suspects freedom. Prosecutor Antonio Gioia says the deals occur in specific areas or districts where commanders favor them.

    Reviewing policy

    The process has been discussed several times this year within the department.

    In May, police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark issued an order banning use of the unofficial gun-trade form officers had developed. "Effective immediately discontinue using the unauthorized form to document an individual's release in exchange for information about illegal firearms," he wrote. But the commissioner stopped short of condemning the practice.

    So it persisted.

    At an Aug. 18 public safety meeting for the Washington Village and Pigtown neighborhoods, Lt. Jerry Vandermeulen explained the activity as a common tactic, according to meeting attendees. A suspect arrested on minor charges has an hour to find a gun, hand it over and walk away uncharged.

    The lieutenant said the program had enabled the Southern District to seize nearly 150 guns in less than a year - a way to take guns off the streets and curb jail overcrowding.

    Last month - after inquiries by The Sun and discussion about the practice by department leaders - the process almost entirely ceased, police say. James H. Green, the department's director of special projects, says the department will soon implement a policy against "gun flipping."

    If the deals are carried out as advertised, the suspect never formally enters the criminal justice system and there's no paperwork. But there are documented instances where police made promises and apparently broke them.

    Wedged in the middle of Kavon Graves' court file are ballistic test reports for two guns, a .38-caliber revolver and a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol. It's a seemingly odd place for them because Graves was charged with marijuana possession and his arrest reports make no mention of guns.

    Graves' attorney Nicholas Comaromi, says his client gave those guns to police with the promise he would be let go. But Graves was sentenced in August to 12 years in prison for violating his probation, including the new conviction for possession of marijuana.

    "It's going to foster mistrust between the community and law enforcement," Comaromi says.

    Another case apparently shows that even though the deals may be unenforceable, police can find ways to ensure they are enforced.

    Sean Cason was arrested in 2002 on heroin distribution charges that carried a minimum 25-year sentence, according to court documents. His attorney, Warren A. Brown, says police offered to set Cason free if he turned over a gun. Cason did so, Brown says, but wasn't set free.

    After lengthy delays, the charges were dropped this year. Brown says the deal prompted the charges to be dropped. Prosecutors say the charges were dropped because the case detectives repeatedly failed to show for court, possibly because they had made the deal.

    "It raises the question as to what may have occurred outside our jurisdiction," says Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office.

    Adds Brown: "It's kind of a tricky situation because you're letting 'drug dealers' go free."

    Just how tricky was a point of debate during a hearing last year before Circuit Judge John N. Prevas.

    In the case, Cantie Evans was handcuffed March 10, 2002, by detectives conducting a major drug sweep in West Baltimore. Officers found six vials of crack cocaine inside his Lexus, according to testimony by Evans and a police sergeant.

    Following instructions from officers, Evans called a friend and had the friend deliver a gun in a brown paper bag to a nearby trash canister, according to testimony. The detectives checked to make sure the pistol worked, set Evans free and never charged him.

    But days later, Evans was arrested for alleged drug dealing caught on tape by the same sting operation. His attorney argued that those charges should also be dropped based on the gun trade.

    Prevas denied the request but chastised the police for the confusion. Officers who aren't trained in the law shouldn't be negotiating with suspects who know just as little, he said.

    In the case of the young man dropped on Harding's front steps, police records confirm the 23-year-old's account that he was arrested July 16 in Pigtown. He says he was waiting for a friend when he and two men he doesn't know were arrested. Police say he was about to hand money to a person who was arrested with cocaine.

    Both Rogers and the police account confirm that he was arrested on charges of attempting to possess drugs.

    Rogers, who enrolled in the Army National Guard and recently left for basic training, says he previously had a drug problem but successfully completed rehabilitation. Upon arrest, he says, he asked police how he could avoid going to jail, and they suggested getting a gun. The only one he could think of, he says, was the one kept by the woman who helped raise him in Morrell Park.

    No deal

    Sheila Harding didn't accept the gun-for-freedom deal proposed to her that day. At the time she had a broken, triggerless shotgun upstairs in a closet, she says. A neighbor had given her the gun because he didn't want it around his children, she says.

    Rogers was taken to Central Booking and Intake Center, and several hours later, prosecutors declined to prosecute the case because the charges were legally insufficient, they say.

    Rogers was released. Harding remains incensed.

    "They just wanted a gun," she says, "so they could go to the police station and say, 'Look what we got.'"



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  2. CannibalCrowley

    CannibalCrowley Member

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    Sounds like they're asking for bribes. They're making a contract between the officer and the suspect that for payment of a gun, the officer will let the person go.
     
  3. HankB

    HankB Member

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    I believe the proper term is called "shakedown."

    (Could say more - much more - about the proper response to this kind of activity. But it would be decidedly "Un-HighRoad-Ish.")
     
  4. rbrowning

    rbrowning Member

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    Isn't this kind of short sighted (regadless of legality!)? If I was a dealer in Baltimore I would arrange to rob a gun store for a ready supply of "Get Out of Jail Free Cards".

    A black day on the road down the hill.
     
  5. Cool Hand Luke 22:36

    Cool Hand Luke 22:36 member

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    "Officers say top city police officials haven't specifically ordered gun trades, but they revel in the resulting statistics, officers say. Baltimore police seized more than 3,000 guns last year, though it's unclear how many earned suspects freedom. Prosecutor Antonio Gioia says the deals occur in specific areas or districts where commanders favor them"

    So crack-heads in Baltimore were let go approximately 3000 times last year.

    Free to rob, burglarize, and murder.

    No wonder Baltimore County has the second highest robbery rate in the nation, right behind #1 Prince George's County Maryland next door.
     
  6. Spot77

    Spot77 Member

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    O'Malley's comments and indifference on this need to be remembered when he attempts to run for Governor.


    A nice billboard on South Hanover Street should remind the city folk how he's treating them.:evil:


    "Paid for by Concerned Citizens Against Raping the Constitution"
     
  7. Edward429451

    Edward429451 member

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    How unmitigated can they get here?

    Sorry, couldn't resist.:D
     
  8. Mulliga

    Mulliga Member

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    I'd give the gun to these nice officers...bullets first. :rolleyes:
     
  9. armoredman

    armoredman Member

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    Illegal shakedown, like when Border Patrol seizes your vehicle and charges the VEHICLE with a crime. This is garbage - total UnConstitutional garbage.
     
  10. Art Eatman

    Art Eatman Administrator Staff Member

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    Folks have been talking about the "revolving door" of the criminal justice system for decades. It's a common joke that a crook is out the copshop door before the cop finishes doing the paperwork for the arrest.

    Folks gripe and moan about all the petty crooks on the street, who do drugs and burglaries and other relatively minor crimes and eventually wind up involved in a murder via knife or gun.

    We gripe about how much money we spend on prisons and yet our prisons are over-crowded. The world at large points fingers at the US about how many of our people are in jail...

    Hundreds of articles in all manner of publications talk about how "The System Is Broke".

    When you work within a broken system, you generally try some work-around fix. It looks to me like some Baltimore cops tried their own version of a work-around fix. Legally right, wrong or indifferent, they think it helps them do their jobs. From a human nature standpoint, it's no different from when I was in the Army; I did a lot of "scrounging" for stuff the supply chain was supposed to provide but didn't.

    Art
     
  11. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Member

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    Once upon a time I believe the medium of exchange was some chickens or a pig or a goat.

    Pilgrim
     
  12. Zrex

    Zrex Member

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    Welcome to the police state.
     
  13. Edward429451

    Edward429451 member

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    Art you make a fairly decent stab at minimizing this situation, but I'd hardly think the two situations are even close to each other.

    That said, I think the real thing Art was trying to say is please, please, don't let this be just another cop bashing thread! Too bad the cops keep feeding us ammo like this though.;)

    Isolated incident folks, move along...
     
  14. CannibalCrowley

    CannibalCrowley Member

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    Edward429451
    Isolated?
    As Inigo Montoya would say, "I do not think it means what you think it means. "
     
  15. JPL

    JPL Member

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    And people wonder why I have such unmitigated hatred for the "servants of the public"?
     
  16. El Tejon

    El Tejon Member

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    Gee, I wish I could get the po-po to implement that program here!:D
     
  17. Art Eatman

    Art Eatman Administrator Staff Member

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    I ain't sure whether or not I approve, but the behavior certainly is understandable and is rational in the context of "The Job". In many ways, it's a return to the 1950s and earlier, when the police actively maintained order on their beats.

    Wambaugh described it quite well in his novel about Bumper Morgan.

    The BaltCop focus seems to be on the relatively petty types of crooks. The increase in numbers of these creatures seems to me to have begun its rise when city bosses decided to take cops off walking beats and put them into patrol cars. Didn't want to spend the tax money for hiring people to patrol, with the increasing size of city populations.

    This reduced the consequences for petty crimes, which is the same deal as "If you want more of something, subsidize it." Ergo, more petty crooks. More hassle for cops, squeezed between the public demand for Law'n'Order and today's political correctness in the criminal justice system.

    When people are put into squeezes, they work out solutions. We all do it, every danged one of us. We may not do it all legal and righteous, but we do it.

    Here, probably, a (not "the") solution would be more cops, more jails, more courts--all of which means higher taxes, which we're unwilling to pay.

    Damfino...

    Art
     
  18. Master Blaster

    Master Blaster Member

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    The police are breaking the law, ignoring law that was passed by elected officials, making their own vigilante justice system.

    They are letting potentially dangerous violent felons go free, or shaking down minor offenders who wouldn't be charged anyway.

    They fail to understand that the problem is not the gun, but the crimminal who uses the gun.
     
  19. Coronach

    Coronach Moderator Emeritus

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    Yeah, I gotta go with "bad idea" on this one. ;)

    The beat cops were trying and innovative workaround solution to the problem, and one that the chain of command, apparently, approved (there was a form?). Moreover, there was obviously some traffic with the prosecutors, too...as gun paperwork made it to court with marijuana possession cases. So, everyone up the chain said it was OK...and there is some reason to believe that it might be. You have the discretion to arrest or not arrest. No one is keeping the guns that are turned in (an assumption, but it better be a valid one). To a beat cop, this must seem just like the deals worthed out by detectives for informants.

    And still? Yeah. Bad idea. If for no other reason than this...as long as I own a pistol at home, I have a Get Out of Jail Free Card. Criminals aren't stupid. I'm sure that more than one of them has pulled this stunt already.

    Also, the judge would be correct:
    there is a legal, court approved method to plea bargain and negotiate. This is not it. ;)

    What bothers me more than anything else is the fact that they're letting them go uncharged. Apparently, not just released on a summons (which is a perfectly normal way to end a contact). Not released pending direct indictment by a grand jury (also normal). Just...released. On instances of misdemeanor charges, this is potentially borderline OK (if utterly shady). On felony charges? Hell, that could be misfeasance or nonfeasance.

    As always, the details will matter, but at face value this is poopy. ;) Also, sounds like weak leadership in the chain of command is what got this perpetuated. Go figure.

    Mike
     
  20. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Member

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    Un fricking believable. It's like "A Clockwork Orange," where the worst of the criminals are made into cops. That's what you get in an anti-gun police state like MD. There are parts of the Mat-Su where any trooper stupid enough to try this would get a whole lot more gun than they expected.
     
  21. RW_Reagan

    RW_Reagan Member

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    my first thought on this was ***?

    then I remembered that its Baltimore, the Chicago of the east. Wouldn't surprise me to learn that there is more than this going on down that way.
     
  22. Joe Demko

    Joe Demko Member

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    This nothing new. I remember my dad and other cops doing things not too differently back in the 60's. Pro-active policing, I guess. Lots of guys who, today, would end up facing charges had knives or handguns confiscated, maybe got whacked upside the head with a nightstick into the bargain, and were told "Go home. Don't let me see you again for a long time." As Art Eatman has said, officers in those days concentrated more on controlling petty criminals and other street-level pusbags. It wasn't Constitutional then, and it isn't now. On the other hand, the streets were safer then, or at least were perceived as safer.
     
  23. CannibalCrowley

    CannibalCrowley Member

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    Joe Demko
    That's not what's happening here. Read:
    See, in your example the cops are confiscating weapons that are being carried by the suspects. That's different from telling am unarmed suspect that you'll let him go if someone gives the cops a gun as a ransom/bribe.
     
  24. Joe Demko

    Joe Demko Member

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    Just two minutes from sanity.
    Not as different as you think. Are they randomly snatching citizens off the street? I don't think so. They're picking these people up for some reason. The only difference between the old timey cops and these modern ones is the scope of the search. My dad would yank some mope of the street for public intoxication/loitering/disorderly conduct, pat him down and relieve him of any hardware, illicit herbs and spices, liquor, etc. These cops are no doubt doing the same but also giving said mope a lift home and then removing any hardware from those premises. You have to figure there has must have been a degree of questioning taking place too. The mope must have admitted, possibly under duress, that he has a gun in the first place. Even cops aren't dumb enough to demand what the perp can't give up.
     
  25. Black Snowman

    Black Snowman Member

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    Just how would they know if they didn't push?

    The whole thing stinks. I prefer justice to law and this is neither.
     
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