By Van Smith
Published by City Paper, Nov. 4, 2009
Lynae Chapman, a 21-year-old correctional officer for the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC), is obviously pregnant as she stands before Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge John Prevas on Oct. 27. The father of her unborn child, concedes Chapman’s defense attorney Lawrence Rosenberg, is 22-year-old murder suspect Ray Donald Lee, a Black Guerilla Family (BGF) gang member for whom Chapman (pictured) is accused of procuring a cell phone while he remains jailed pending trial. According to a court reporter’s video of the hearing, prosecutor Tonya LaPolla says that Chapman was indicted on Oct. 23, after a search of Lee’s cell turned up the cell phone and “numerous letters from” Chapman.
Though Chapman is charged with misdemeanors–obstruction of justice, two counts of misconduct in office, and delivering contraband–LaPolla points out that the misconduct charges are common-law crimes for which there is no maximum penalty, and asks for “at least $500,000 bail.” Prevas–saying “cell phones in a correctional setting are a big no-no”–sets it at $1 million, “secured by real-estate only, no corporate surety.”
Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Mark Vernarelli’s statement about the case suggests that the charges against Chapman are part of larger, multi-agency probe. “At this point,” Vernarelli writes in an Oct. 26 e-mail sent in response to City Paper‘s questions, “the case is at a critical juncture, and to comment further would jeopardize other law-enforcement agencies investigations.” Though LaPolla told Judge Prevas that Chapman was fired the day she was indicted, Vernarelli says she’s been placed on administrative leave.
The issue of prison guards suspected of aiding inmates’ criminal conduct has attracted public attention this year. In April, federal indictments against two dozen alleged members of the BGF (“Black-Booked,” Feature, Aug. 5) named three correctional officers, who have since pleaded guilty to assisting BGF inmates with their alleged drug-dealing and extortion conspiracy. In early October, a federal judge ruled that inmate Tashma McFadden’s lawsuit, which alleges that prison guard Antonia Allison set him up for a beating and stabbing by inmate gang members, should go to a jury. Evidence in the case shows that, nearly three years ago, after Lt. Santiago Morales wrote confidential reports naming 16 guards suspected of gang ties, BCDC warden William Filbert ordered that such reports cease (“Ganging Up,” Mobtown Beat, Oct. 21).
During Chapman’s bail-review hearing, LaPolla lays out the state’s facts about Chapman’s conduct. The investigation “began with a homicide,” LaPolla explains, that occurred on Monday, June 29–the alleged murder-for-hire of 28-year-old Tavon Walker, who was shot just before 10 a.m. on the 2100 block of Brighton Street, near Carver Vocational-Technical High School. Ray Lee and his 26-year-old co-defendant, Quinard Henson, were indicted for killing Walker in early August.
“Ray Lee drove the shooter to the location, waited, and then drove the shooter away,” LaPolla says, recounting how Walker’s killing is alleged to have occurred. Chapman, she says, was the registered owner of the vehicle.
When Lee and Henson were brought in on the charges, LaPolla recounts, Lee “began yelling obscenities and threats” at Henson, “regarding whether or not [Henson] had given a statement to police, and he did this in the presence of detectives.”
After Lee’s cell at the detention center was searched on Sept. 29, turning up the cell phone, LaPolla continues, the phone’s log showed calls had been made between Chapman and Lee. A search warrant executed at Chapman’s home, in the Wakefield neighborhood near Leakin Park in West Baltimore, turned up a receipt for the Sept. 24 purchase of the phone found in Lee’s jail cell. Chapman, LaPolla says, then gave a taped statement to police in which “she admitted she had almost daily contact with Ray Lee while he was incarcerated” and that Lee’s “brother purchased the cell phone and gave it to her, and she then took it to another party and paid them to deliver it to Ray Lee, the homicide suspect.”
Lee has been charged for possessing the phone, as well as other contraband, as a result of the Sept. 29 search of his cell. Court records in that case say that Christopher Nickel, a detective sergeant with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Internal Investigative Unit found “a cellular phone with charger that was secreted beneath a mattress” in Lee’s cell. The records indicate that he also found “hand fashioned ‘baggies,'” seven containing “loose tobacco” and 16 containing “a green/brown leafy matter” that Nickel recognized to be marijuana. The packaging, the case record continues, is “indicative of an intent to distribute” the tobacco and the marijuana, both of which are deemed contraband in the prison system.
At Chapman’s hearing, LaPolla tells Judge Prevas that “this is a very serious case,” arguing that the facts “weigh in favor of no bail or a very substantial bail.” Chapman, she continues, admitted to arranging the cell phone’s delivery to Lee, who is “a known BGF member,” just as discovery in the murder case against him was about to divulge whether or not his co-defendant made statements to police.
Chapman’s freedom, LaPolla argues, presents a risk “to the safety of any potential witnesses in the homicide case” against Lee.
“[Chapman] has chosen to affiliate herself with a known gangmember, a murder suspect who is an inmate at the detention center where she, until recently, worked–even at the risk of her job and her own freedom,” LaPolla concludes. “She will do absolutely anything to assist him.”
Rosenberg argues for a “reasonable bail” for Chapman, who he says “is surely not a flight risk,” and “I assume not a danger to anyone.” Pointing out that she has no prior criminal history, a high-school education, and a 2-year-old child, Rosenberg attempts to paint a picture of Chapman as a naïve young mother who was dating Lee–and pregnant by him–before he was arrested for the murder of Walker. She “cooperated with police” investigating her ties to Lee, Rosenberg says, adding that “her life is potentially ruined. She’s shamed herself, shamed everyone in her family.”
Prevas, in preparing to rule on the matter, calls Chapman’s charges “extremely serious.”
“If anything the state said is true, it appears that she would be enabling a dangerous [alleged] killer not only to try to avoid the consequences of the killing for which he’s been indicted, but also to attempt to subvert the trial,” he says, adding that if Chapman provided Lee with a cell phone or helped him get one, “that is a threat to society’s ability to be able to protect itself.”
In announcing Chapman’s $1 million bail, he says, “If she can’t even respect the rules of her job, she’s not going to stick around in Baltimore” to answer the charges.
Chapman’s arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 20.