- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

BALTIMORE (AP) Citing sloppy work by Baltimore police officers, a federal judge threw out evidence in two recent cases, including a major city heroin seizure.
"It's sad. We deserve better," said U.S. District Judge Andre Davis, during one of the cases in which he sharply criticized police.
Judge Davis said he was impatient with sloppy work by city officers he says were more intent on fighting with the Baltimore state's attorney and making big arrests than building strong cases, court transcripts obtained by the Baltimore Sun show.
Judge Davis ruled in one case that about $200,000 worth of heroin was illegally seized by city narcotics detectives who prepared a search warrant affidavit that contained "knowing lies."
In an unrelated gun case, Judge Davis said city officers failed to show a basic understanding of constitutional rights.
"I think the community is entitled to a higher level of performance, to a higher level of professionalism," Judge Davis said. "They're fumbling and bumbling, and they don't understand the law. … They don't understand the Constitution. They don't understand the limits that the law places upon them."
His remarks provided a look at Baltimore's police force from the vantage of the city's federal bench.
Officials in the U.S. Attorney's Office responded to Judge Davis' ruling in the drug case against defendant Mason Weaver by asking the judge to soften his words. Prosecutors didn't appeal Judge Davis' decision to suppress the evidence, but they asked the judge to amend his characterization of the sworn police affidavit as containing "knowing lies."
Prosecutors asked the judge to find instead that the affidavit contained "recklessly made material misstatements and inaccuracies."
Judge Davis has yet to rule on the request. In court papers filed last week, Mr. Weaver's defense attorney, Kenneth Ravenell, called the government's motion an attempt to "rewrite history" to keep the detective who prepared the affidavit and testified about it in court "viable as a police officer."
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment on the case. Mr. Ravenell, who represented Mr. Weaver and the defendant in the other case that Judge Davis criticized, also declined to comment.
A police spokeswoman said police Commissioner Kevin Clark had been made aware of the judge's concerns and was reviewing the matter.
During a Jan. 16 hearing in the heroin-trafficking case against Mr. Weaver, Judge Davis said a string of illegal steps by police forced him to throw out evidence including more than 800 grams of heroin and $3,700 in cash found in an apartment in October.
He said the problems illustrate why so many cases in state court end in plea deals or acquittals by city juries.
"The state's attorney for Baltimore city is often criticized for the manner in which the criminal justice system is operated by that office," Judge Davis said at the hearing. "What people don't realize is that this is what this office has to deal with."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Jackson argued in court that police had made some honest mistakes, but not enough to throw out a drug seizure significant enough for the case to be moved from state court to the federal system.

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