Federal Judge Notes ‘Troubling Issues’ Involving Baltimore Police Conduct in Gun Case

by Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Dec. 30, 2014

U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake ruled in the government’s favor in a gun case today, allowing a gun to be used as evidence in the case of Arthur Jeter, who’s charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. But Blake noted “troubling issues” involving the conduct of Baltimore police officers who seized the gun from Jeter.

Without elaborating, Blake writes that Jeter’s attorney, Brendan Hurson of the Office of the Federal Public Defender, “raises troubling issues concerning the handling of a confidential informant (‘CI’), the apparent failure of the city police to disclose the existence of that CI to the city prosecutor, and the reliability of the lead detective’s recollection.” During a September motions hearing in the case, according to the transcript, Blake commented that “this is a fairly unusual case,” noting that at an earlier motions hearing, Hurson “was surprised” when he “learned a lot of information . . . that had not previously been disclosed.” 

The informant “was not anonymous,” Blake continues in her written opinion, “but rather agreed to become a CI to avoid a drug charge (and backup time on an armed robbery).” In October 2013, the informant “told Det. Robert Clark ‘he would be able to have a friend bring him a gun,'” and Clark “told him that if he did so, he would not be charged with the drug offense.” So, “outside the Baltimore City Police Department’s Southeast District,” the informant spoke with Jeter “on a cell phone placed on speakerphone so Det. Clark could hear the conversation,” and told Jeter “he needed a gun,” and “Jeter agreed to give him one the following day.”

The next day, Jeter was indeed found in possession of a gun while in a car with the informant, and Blake ruled that the officers “had reasonable, articulable suspicion that Mr. Jeter possessed a gun when they seized him by approaching and surrounding the car.” However, she adds in a footnote that “the defense identified numerous inconsistencies in the testimony concerning the events leading up to the seizure of the gun,” as well as “omissions from the statement of probable cause to support the initial charges” against Jeter. But she concludes the omissions “appear intended to protect the identity of the CI.”

Hurson, in previous motions in the case, argued that Clark, “in addition to drafting a statement of probable cause riddled with misrepresentations and critical factual omissions,” offered testimony at a motions hearing that “was repeatedly contradicted by the government’s purported eyewitness, the CI.” He pointed to “undisclosed calls to internal affairs by the CI and his girlfriend, the failure to record or  memorialize any of the critical interactions between the CI, Mr. Jeter, and the police, and the apparent inability of Det. Clark to recall any detail adverse to the government’s case at all” in urging the court to suppress the gun evidence because of “inconsistencies in witness testimony coupled with other glaring ‘red flags’ of improper police conduct.”

“While a jury may reach a different opinion on credibility” of the officers on the case­—Clark, Sgt. Edward Davis, and detectives David Kincaid and Sabrina Hill—Blake writes that “I do not find the inconsistencies and omissions sufficient to conclude there was no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity when the officers seized the individuals in the car.”

Sounds like a close call in favor of the government, and plenty of doubt-raising fodder for Hurson to play up before a jury, should this case go to trial.

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