Pubdate: Thu, 05 Oct 2000
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2000 The Baltimore Sun, a Times Mirror Newspaper.
Contact:  501 N. Calvert Street P.0. Box 1377 Baltimore, MD 21278
Fax: (410) 315-8912
Author: Peter Hermann
Bookmark: (corruption clippings)


Six-Year Veteran Is Charged After Undercover Sting; Crackdown On Corruption

A Baltimore police officer was charged with criminal misconduct yesterday 
after authorities said he fell for a random, undercover sting and falsely 
arrested a city resident on drug charges.

Officials said the case represents the first failure under random integrity 
checks that are being conducted by Internal Affairs detectives and FBI 
agents to rout out corruption under a new city police administration.

Officer Brian L. Sewell, a six-year veteran assigned to the Central 
District, surrendered to authorities yesterday; he had been suspended since 
the incident occurred last month.

"This is a horrible breach of the public trust," Police Commissioner Edward 
T. Norris said at a news conference yesterday, adding that since he took 
over in April, he has "heard a lot from the public about false arrests and 
evidence being planted."

Prosecutors said charges filed against the man Sewell arrested Sept. 4 will 
be dropped. But they acknowledged that that man, identified in court 
documents as Frederick L. McCoy, 18, spent three hours locked in Central 
Booking before he was released.

"If an innocent citizen is arrested and charged with possession of 
narcotics he did not possess, that's outrageous," Norris said.

Police said undercover detectives put crack cocaine on a park bench in West 
Baltimore and placed a phony call complaining about drugs to the 
department's nonemergency 311 line.

Sewell responded and wrote in his report that he saw McCoy "placing a clear 
plastic bag into a crack of a park bench."

Sewell was charged with perjury and misconduct in office. He could not be 
reached for comment yesterday, but his lawyer, Henry Belsky, questioned the 
legalities of using random, undercover sting operations to uncover corruption.

"My officer says he did not commit perjury," Belsky said. "He did what he 
believes was appropriate police work."

The tough internal policing was promised by Mayor Martin O'Malley and 
Norris, who came under fire by introducing a crime-fighting strategy that 
calls for aggressive patrols and more arrests to bring down a high crime 
and homicide rate. Critics voiced concern that the strategies would give 
officers a green light to be brutal and corrupt.

O'Malley said yesterday's arrest proves the critics wrong.

"We said this city needs to do a better job policing our own police," the 
mayor said. "We owe it not only to the people of this city, but we also owe 
it to the 99.9 percent of our officers who every day risk their lives to 
protect the rest of us."

The biggest concern for police commanders is whether this case is isolated. 
Norris said other officers who responded along with Sewell to the drug call 
are being questioned.

Police officials would not disclose how many sting operations they've done 
nor describe them.

City officers have been arrested in the past for forming allegiances with 
violent drug dealers, stealing Oriole playoff tickets from scalpers and 
taking money from Hispanic residents.

Residents who live where drug dealing is prevalent have long complained 
that the narcotics trade is so open it could not exist without complicity 
on the part of police.

In a recent private consultant's survey of officers - to which 80 percent 
of the 3,200-member force responded - 23 percent said they believed that 
more than a quarter of the department "is involved in stealing money or 
drugs from drug dealers."

Attorney Jack B. Rubin said he has had clients complain about corruption. 
He represented former Officer Erick McCrary, who in 1998 was sentenced to 
five years in federal prison for conspiring with a drug lord to abduct and 
kill a narcotics dealer.

"Occasionally, I've heard it from six people, none of whom know each other, 
and it's the same cop," Rubin said, adding that any drug cases Sewell is 
involved in will most likely be dismissed.

State Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, a West Baltimore Democrat, called for 
federal intervention and said in a statement that the arrest confirms his 
fears "that there are officers ... who are manufacturing cases, and in some 
cases, planting evidence on innocent citizens."

Norris rejected the plea for outside monitoring and said FBI agents have 
been working with his Internal Affairs Division since April.

"We are way ahead of Senator Mitchell's proposal," he said.

The incident that led to Sewell's arrest began Sept. 4 when Internal 
Affairs detectives placed a plastic bag containing seven smaller bags of 
crack cocaine on a park bench in the 400 block of Presstman St., in the 
Druid Heights neighborhood of West Baltimore, and then called police to 
report it.

Police said Sewell picked up the drugs from the bench and then responded to 
a burglary call in the 1900 block of McCulloh St., two blocks away. He said 
he saw McCoy leave through the front door of the Druid Heights Development 

Sewell wrote in his report that the manager, Stephen Turner, told him that 
the apartment was unoccupied and that McCoy did not have permission to be 
inside. Sewell arrested McCoy on a burglary charge, which police said 
yesterday also will be dismissed.

Police officials said they believe that Sewell simply added the drug charge 
to the burglary charge; why has not been determined, they said.

Sewell wrote in his report that he saw McCoy place the drugs on the bench 
and then run away when a police cruiser pulled up.

"Based on my training and expertise, as well as over 600 narcotic arrests 
this officer has made in my 7 years as a Baltimore City police officer, I 
believed Mr. McCoy was selling and in possession of a controlled dangerous 
substance," Sewell wrote in his report.

McCoy's mother, Iris Williams, said her son proclaimed his innocence from 
the start. "He said he didn't do it," she said. "He said he was just 
walking and some officer pulled him up."

Williams said she does not have a lot of confidence in Baltimore police. 
"If don't have to call them, I won't," she said.
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