Homicide, Revisited: Two Men Want Detectives Made Famous by David Simon to Pay After Flawed Murder Convictions Put Them in Prison for Decades

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Dec. 10, 2013

James Owens is angry.

“I get pissed off every time I think about this,” the 53-year-old from Southeast Baltimore declares, sitting at a conference table in his lawyer’s office. “I don’t trust the cops,” he says, his glasses only slightly shielding the fury in his eyes, a thin mustache punctuating his vehemence. “Never have, after this happened, and I never will. I hate them.”

Looking at Owens, hearing his Baltimore accent stridently utter those words, it’s clear he’s simply telling it like it is. Twenty years in prison before being cleared of a murder conviction will make a man mad.

But Wendell Griffin, a 62-year-old also at the lawyer’s office meeting, is not the least bit angry. His bald pate rests smoothly above his kind face and soft eyes, a wispy gray beard on his chin. Griffin appears to be a gentle soul, and it seems perfectly natural for him to wax calmly and philosophically about his experience: “If the good Lord does things in such a way that I don’t even understand it,” he says, “then I just keep my faith and I move forward.”


Clarification: Neither of the murders for which James Owens and Wendell Griffin were wrongfully convicted occurred in 1988, and thus neither were mentioned, much less covered, in Homicide.

Cop Out: In Rousting Officer Jacqueline Folio, The Baltimore Police Department Has Raised Questions About its Own Internal Affairs


By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Apr. 6, 2005

At 6:08 p.m. on Thursday, March 27, 2003, an anonymous tipster calls Baltimore City 911 and describes a black man wearing a blue baseball cap, a white shirt, and blue jeans, dealing drugs at the corner of Pratt Street and Ellwood Avenue in East Baltimore. The stash, the caller says, is in a brown paper bag in some bushes next to a corner house there. Three minutes later, 41-year-old Baltimore City Police patrol officer Jacqueline Folio is the first to respond to the scene, where Patterson Park butts up to Highlandtown Middle School.

A 14-year veteran with two stints as a police academy instructor under her belt, Folio makes fleeting eye contact with a young man who fits the description, as he walks away from the area with two friends. Folio radios in the suspect’s location and proceeds to recover a brown paper bag from under the bushes. It contains money and suspected cocaine in baggies. A block away, on the opposite side of the school, other officers collar the suspect, 18-year-old Leon Burgess. A half-hour after the phone call, Burgess is on his way to Central Booking. Folio completes the paperwork, charging Burgess with possession with intent to distribute cocaine, then submits the evidence to headquarters at 9 p.m.

By all appearances, it’s a routine drug arrest, done with speed and efficiency, wrapped up neatly and ready for the courts in a matter of hours. But by midnight, it’s Folio, not Burgess, who’s in hot water. Two years later, she still is, because the whole incident was a setup, a police integrity sting designed and conducted by the BPD’s Internal Affairs Division to see if a cop fails to turn in abandoned drugs and money.

Folio properly submitted the contraband, but in her sworn statement charging Burgess with the crime, she seemed to state that she’d seen Burgess place the bag in the bushes. “Prior to the call being received by Agent Folio, the officer was patrolling that particular area and observed three B/M’s at the intersection of E. Pratt St. and S. Ellwood Ave.,” Folio wrote in her statement of probable cause to charge Burgess. “Agent Folio observed one of the B/M’s described as wearing a dark colored baseball cap, white T-shirt, and jean shorts place an object onto the ground behind a bush located against the NW wall of that corner. This individual is further identified as the def. Burgess.”

On March 28, 2003, Folio learned she was in trouble, and was immediately suspended. Although she had no obligation to do so, she wanted to give a statement about the incident because she believed she could convince investigators—or even a grand jury, if it came to that—that she was innocent. She got that opportunity on June 6, 2003, when she waived her rights under the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights and provided a voluntary statement to Internal Affairs. The department wasn’t convinced; a week later, on June 12, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office indicted her criminally for perjury and misconduct, saying she’d purposefully lied under oath in order to maliciously pin false charges on Burgess.

The Folio indictment appeared to confirm a bad-cop stereotype—the aggressive enforcer who works poor, black neighborhoods and already has a good idea who’s guilty and who’s not, making it easy to pin false charges on a passer-by and rationalize it as removing trouble from the street before it actually happens. It’s offensive, it’s unconstitutional, it’s criminal, and it’s happened before. And Folio’s sworn statement of charges is what it is: Her statement reads that she saw Burgess “place” the stash behind the bush. In order to convict her, the state’s attorney was going to have to prove criminal intent—that Folio did it on purpose.

In December 2003, Folio was acquitted of the criminal charges by Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Lynn Stewart, who didn’t explain her verdict but apparently bought Folio’s apologetic explanation. Folio testified that the allegedly false statement in Burgess’ charging documents was not intentional and malicious, as the prosecution argued, but the result of vagueness due to a run-on sentence.

“I know what happened that day was clearly in good faith on my part,” Folio said on the stand. “When I say ‘observed’ in my probable cause statement, I was trying to say that I observed the individual who was described by the caller. And when I use the word ‘describe,’ that was based upon the information I received from the caller—that this person, in fact, did fit the description that was given out.”

At the criminal trial, Folio’s long record of complaint-free service, her stints as an academy instructor (she estimates that 90 percent of the current force trained under her), and a stack of letters praising her character and professionalism all served to paint a picture of an officer beyond reproach. But the question of her guilt or innocence apparently remained open from the department’s point of view. Though Folio was found innocent of any criminal charges, nearly a year later, on or about Dec. 14, 2004, BPD decided to take its own crack at her, charging her administratively for her statement in the Burgess arrest papers. Folio could have volunteered to take a polygraph test in an effort to clear her name, but her attorney, Clarke Ahlers, says she never did because the tests are known to be “unreliable”—especially when used to gauge a person’s intent, which was the issue in her case. Nonetheless, “the police department,” Ahlers stresses, “had the right to order her to take one, and they never did.”

Folio’s administrative case would be heard by a police trial board, with three members of the department weighing each side’s arguments before deciding Folio’s professional fate. But the trial board didn’t happen. On March 11, 2005, one business day before the scheduled March 14 hearing, Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm signed a letter immediately ordering that Folio be “removed from her regular permanent position as a Baltimore Police Officer, without fault upon her part.”

Hamm’s move indefinitely postponed the trail-board hearing and forced Folio to retire, which she did officially on March 17. The next day, in order for Folio to be eligible for city health insurance, she and her roommate, Lisa Olszewski, also a city police officer, filed publicly as domestic partners—a decision that was not made lightly, since it officially outted them as a lesbian couple.

Suddenly, the department reversed course. On March 18, the department sent a letter to Ahlers stating that “Folio is under no direct order . . . to retire. In fact, as of this date she is still a member” of the force—despite the fact that Folio had signed retirement papers, as previously directed by the department, the day before.

On March 22, Hamm issued another letter, stating that his March 11 letter ordering Folio out of her job was signed and sent “in error” and that her “job has not been abolished and I am not authorizing a retirement.” As of press time, Folio’s status as a Baltimore City police officer remains in limbo, and she and her lawyer are outraged and baffled. Once you hear her side of this story, it’s not hard to imagine why.

Directly after signing her retirement papers on March 17, Folio and Ahlers arrived at City Paper’s offices to talk. It was the first time Folio had spoken to the press about the matter. Now that she was no longer a member of the force (or so she believed), she was finally free to talk.

“The cost of this case was devastating to me,” Folio lamented in a clear, even-toned Baltimore accent. Physically, she’s obviously strong—an attribute that explains her police academy stints, teaching defensive tactics and physical fitness. And like most cops, she’s practiced at masking her emotions when speaking. But her words themselves, more than her demeanor, gave away the depth of her feelings. “I live in the city, I’ve been a lifelong city resident, and I truly believe in the city. That’s why I’ve been here so long and had complete faith in the police department.

“I guess what hurts me most,” she continued, “is who really suffered here is the citizens of Baltimore—not having me on the street protecting their communities. And if you talk to anyone in the communities that I patrolled, they miss me. To me, that’s who I ultimately work for. And I like to know that when they saw me, for eight hours they at least felt safe at some point. That’s what meant the most to me, that I’m not going to be able to do that anymore.”

The police department has nothing to say about the Folio affair because, BPD spokesman Matt Jablow says, it expects to be sued.

In fact, Ahlers has so notified the department—not formally, but by implication. On March 22—the same day Hamm rescinded his order for Folio to retire—Ahlers sent a six-page letter to the department that, in closing, reviewed Folio’s “rights” in regards to her experience with the department’s internal-affairs bureaucracy. Among them were the rights to “take civil action” in the courts, to “request federal criminal and civil investigation of misconduct by her accusers,” and “to take effective public, political action through the mass media.” Ahlers dangled the prospect of negotiating a financial settlement, but pointed out that “Ms. Folio’s legal obligation to cooperate in any federal criminal investigation” was not negotiable. Reading between the lines, Ahlers was putting the department on the alert that Folio can give as good as she gets.


The banner reads HIGHLANDTOWN ‘DRUG-FREE’ MIDDLE SCHOOL. It hangs over a public school, next to a public park, as an early spring day turns to dusk, right when students and working people who live in the area are likely to be enjoying some free time outdoors. This is where and when Internal Affairs chose to place a fake drug stash under bushes next to a public sidewalk—where any youngster might pick up the bag, where any random person passing through might be swept up in the sting and arrested—as a ploy to tempt a cop to steal abandoned contraband.

As Folio experienced it, the “random integrity test”—Internal Affairs’ term for the operation—presented anomalies that raised eyebrows even as it unfolded. Folio says she and other cops who share her beat knew that Pratt and Ellwood is not a drug corner, so the tip itself (phoned in by an Internal Affairs detective) was out of the ordinary. Even Leon Burgess, the man Folio arrested, said as much during a police interrogation: “It’s not even a drug area that they was riding in. I have never even seen . . . drug[s] move through there.”

Stranger still was the condition of the recovered cash: $250 in clean, crisp, new bills, several of them with sequential serial numbers. Folio and another responding officer discussed the unusually fresh bills as soon as they first examined them, and Burgess, when he was interrogated by police officials while still in custody at Central Booking early the next morning, pointed out that “junkies don’t give you straight money like that. Junkies’ money’s sweaty and it’s balled up and all types of stuff.”

The Internal Affairs detectives’ sting also created a victim: Leon Burgess, who was falsely stopped, detained, and arrested as a direct result of the actions of the detectives, who did nothing to stop it. They were the only people on the scene other than Burgess and his friends who knew he was innocent, and the Internal Affairs detectives simply watched the arrest, recording it on tape. What’s more, the tape reveals that the detectives knew that they were watching trouble unfolding at the time.

Internal Affairs sergeants Terry Ressin and Robert Morris were sitting in a surveillance vehicle during the sting, and their video camera recorded their discussion as Burgess was accosted by the patrol officers. According to the transcript (which was provided by Ahlers to City Paper, along with the rest of Folio’s records of the case), Ressin remarked, “If they lock him up, we got problems.”

Morris responded that Folio is “supposed to be a decent girl. I think she’ll probably just get numbers for found property and lock him up for [inaudible], all we can hope that anyway.”

Ressin’s retort: “And if not, we’re all screwed.”

As it turned out, Internal Affairs was not screwed, but Folio was—with Burgess as collateral damage. “They know this is illegal,” Ahlers says of the detectives’ recorded conversation as they watched Folio arrest Burgess. “[Internal Affairs] had let a person be unconstitutionally stopped, detained, and arrested. He had no business being stopped because [Internal Affairs] knew, when they gave the description out [to 911], that it was a fiction. They know this is illegal,” he argues emphatically, growing visibly exercised. “Jackie doesn’t know that. She’s been dispatched to a felony in progress!”

What’s more, during Folio’s criminal trial it came to light that this particular test came with a heightened risk of a false arrest built in. Under cross-examination, the Internal Affairs detective who designed the sting, Brian Winder, admitted that the plan was to have Resin call 911 with a description “that mirrors persons in the area and advise . . . that the person described is dealing drugs” (emphasis added), almost guaranteeing the prospect of the false arrest of a passing civilian.

Elsewhere in Winder’s testimony at Folio’s trial, the detective acknowledged that he designed the test without a written manual to help him navigate potential pitfalls—what actions to take should someone be falsely stopped, detained, or arrested as a result of the test. (In July 2004, after Winder left Internal Affairs, he was shot and killed in the line of duty.) Indeed, a federal class-action discrimination lawsuit brought against the department in December 2004 by a large group of African-American officers asserts that “BPD has no written investigatory standards, policy, or training for members of [Internal Affairs].”

Folio says she has read a portion of a 1990s New York Police Department manual for doing internal-affairs stings, which explains what to do when faced with an unexpected problem, such as a false arrest. “It spells out, if it goes bad, what they need to do to stop it,” Folio pointed out.

“Suppose, for example,” Ahlers says, picking up on the theme, “if Officer Folio had pointed a gun at Burgess, would they then interrupt it? I mean, at what point were they willing to say, ‘Jeez, now things have deteriorated to the point that she may use deadly force, maybe now we ought to admit that the suspect is not the felon because it’s a fictitious felony.’”


Unprepared for the complications that arose from the sting gone wrong, BPD began tossing the problem up the chain of command like a hot potato. As Internal Affairs sergeants Ressin and Moore followed the police van that was transporting Burgess to Central Booking, Ressin phoned his supervisor, Lt. Ross Buzzuro. “We gave out a description,” Ressin explained, according to the surveillance-tape transcript, “and they, ah, actually stopped somebody a couple of blocks away, who fit the description and they locked him up.” (Emphasis in the original.)

Then Ressin called the lieutenant colonel in charge of Internal Affairs at the time, George Mitchell, to brief him on the situation. “They actually stopped somebody,” he recounted to Mitchell. “I don’t know yet if they found something on him while they were checking him or if they’re going to charge him with our stash. If it was our stuff,” Ressin added, “then we got problems.” Then, to an inaudible comment made by Mitchell, he responded, “Yeah, that’s what I’m hoping, but if not then we’ll do what we have to do.”

What had to be done, subsequent events make clear, was to stick the whole mess on Folio, based on her statement of charges against Burgess, which was completed by 8:30 p.m. At 10:30 p.m. on March 27, 2003, the evening of the arrest, the department’s then-chief of special projects, Sean Malone, was first contacted about the incident. Twenty minutes later, Mitchell briefed one of his Internal Affairs lieutenants, and sent another to the Southeastern District station house to await shift change, when Folio would be present. At 11:45 p.m., Folio arrived for shift change, and was immediately summoned to her shift commander’s office. By midnight, the Southeastern District commander, Maj. John Long, was advised by Mitchell of Folio’s “impropriety” in writing up an allegedly false report. Minutes later, two Internal Affairs detectives escorted Folio to the Internal Affairs offices to read her her Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights rights. Her police powers were suspended immediately, and she was assigned to work at the Baltimore City Juvenile Detention Center.

Burgess, meanwhile, was locked up at Central Booking, where the booking process was completed by about 8:15 p.m. At 12:45 a.m. on March 28—just as Folio, at Internal Affairs, was being read her Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights rights for having wrongfully arrested him, an innocent man—Burgess was taken out of a group cell at Central Booking and put in a room to be interrogated by Malone, Internal Affairs Lt. Joseph Smith, and Internal Affairs Det. Anthony Vaeth. The interview lasted for 35 minutes. Afterward, Burgess was returned to the cell and remained locked up until 2:45 a.m., when he was finally released and given a lift to his East Baltimore home by Malone, Smith, and Vaeth.

It’s clear from the transcript of that interview that Burgess believed he was officially under arrest when Malone, Smith, and Vaeth interrogated him. Smith even re-read him his Miranda rights on the record, an act that further veiled the fact that the police knew he was innocent, had been wrongfully arrested, and was now being wrongfully held and interrogated. It was then more than six hours after his false arrest, and no one had told him he was free to leave.


Ahlers, during the interview at City Paper right after Folio’s March 17 retirement, says he was particularly shocked at Malone’s conduct in handling Burgess: “His first concern, when he arrived at Central Booking that night, should have been to release Burgess. What he does instead is he scams Burgess by bringing him into a room and giving him Miranda. He knows, if he’s got an ounce of sense, that Internal Affairs has done something grossly unconstitutional here, and illegal, and that the city has liability. And so he takes what they’ve done, and he looks at Jackie Folio’s statement of charges, and he says, ‘Here’s the out. This ambiguous sentence here, we’ll put it on the officer.’

“The proof of that is that they never even call Jackie Folio to figure out the ambiguity. They never even asked her, ‘Is this accurate?’ She’s passed the test they designed. She’s turned in all the drugs, all the money. She has no history of ever getting a complaint. In fact, on the [Internal Affairs] tape one of them says she’s supposed to be a good officer.”

In fact, according to the case record, as the Burgess interrogation was winding down that night, the decision to criminally indict Folio had already been made. At 1:15 in the morning, Lt. Col. Mitchell of Internal Affairs notified Thomas Krehely, the assistant state’s attorney who handles police corruption cases; in turn, Krehely advised Mitchell to “gather info, interview people, and meet week of April 1, 2003 for an indictment.” Folio didn’t know her fate was sealed already. On June 6, 2003,when she waived her Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights rights and gave a voluntary statement, it was because she thought she could avoid indictment.

The morning after the sting, the press coverage began. “The Sunpapers breaks the story,” Ahlers recalls, “that Jackie Folio has committed a crime. That she put drugs on an innocent suspect. And if you compare the stories in the Sunpapers—there are two stories two days in a row—if you compare that, it’s verbatim [from] the Leon Burgess interrogation. Now, who would have leaked that? Well, the department runs this ridiculous theory by me—Leon Burgess called the reporter. The idea that he knows which reporter he should talk to at the Sunpapers to generate an article of interest, and that this was an [Internal Affairs] undercover operation—a fact that was not known to him—is absolutely absurd.”

Folio learned only earlier this year, in preparation for the trial board, that Burgess was interrogated by Malone the night of the sting—a fact that brings up another gripe from Ahlers about how the case was conducted. After the administrative charges were filed and the hearing approached, both sides shared information in a legal process called “discovery,” just as they had before the criminal trial. This time, though, Folio and Ahlers received evidence from the police department that hadn’t been provided to them, as required, during the earlier criminal proceedings. Some of the late-arriving evidence was proving helpful in preparing a strong defense for the trial board, but it also would have helped strengthen Folio’s successful defense before Judge Stewart.

“The transcript [of the Burgess interrogation] was one of the documents that was not produced by the police [before] the criminal trial,” Ahlers stresses. “And the person who makes the decision about what information the police department gives to the state’s attorneys office, who must provide it to the defense, is the chief of legal, Sean Malone. So he intentionally did not disclose that.”

Actually, Malone at that time was not chief of legal—a position department spokesman Matt Jablow says Malone had left in 2002—so the difficulties Ahlers had during the discovery process may not have been Malone’s fault. At the time, Jablow explains, Malone was chief of special projects, a job with vague and wide-ranging duties that even Jablow couldn’t summarize. And yet Malone was closely involved with the Folio case; when Ahlers phoned the department to speak to the chief of legal about Folio’s case, he says he found himself talking to Malone, who, Ahlers says, represented himself as chief of legal.

Malone, now the city’s labor commissioner, did not respond to phone calls or a letter hand-delivered and faxed to his office requesting comment for this story.


Clarke Ahlers has been a lawyer since 1986, but before that he had been with the Howard County Police Department since 1972—initially as a 17-year-old cadet, later as an officer. That helps explain why he was so taken aback when he first spoke with Sean Malone on the phone about the Folio case.

Ahlers says the conversation took place right after Folio had hired him. (Herbert Weiner, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police union, represented Folio when she was suspended, right after the incident, but Folio hired Ahlers shortly thereafter.) Having learned the details of Folio’s case, Ahlers decided the best course of action was to tell her side of the story to the department, which might decide that charges weren’t warranted. So he contacted the department’s legal affairs division, asked to talk to its chief, and ended up talking to Sean Malone.

“In my mind I’m picturing a 30-year salty veteran,” Ahlers recalls, “somebody who is a former police officer-turned-lawyer, been around the block, and knows everything there is to know.” In fact, at the time, Malone was 36. When he’d been selected as the BPD’s top attorney in 2000, he’d been a lawyer for 18 months. But he was a close friend and adviser of Mayor Martin O’Malley’s, having managed his election campaigns and been a bartender at McGinn’s (now Mick O’Shea’s) where O’Malley’s Irish rock band often played. Malone’s previous law-enforcement career before becoming BPD’s top legal authority consisted of an approximately six-month stint as a prosecutor in Baltimore County.

Ahlers says he began his initial telephone conversation with Malone by offering to give Folio’s side of the story in hopes of preventing criminal charges. He says Malone cut him off and insisted, in no uncertain terms, that Folio was at fault in wrongfully arresting Burgess, end of story. Ahlers says he countered that his client believed she was making a legitimate arrest thanks to the bogus anonymous tip describing a suspect; Ahlers says he was then shocked to hear the police department’s ostensible top legal expert counter that stopping a citizen under such pretenses was unconstitutional, when in fact, Ahlers points out, it is quite constitutional and standard police practice. Regardless, Ahlers says, Malone was apparently unmoved by the argument and cut the conversation short.

It all adds up, in Ahlers’ mind, to a Malone-inspired attempt to hide Internal Affairs misdeeds. Malone, Ahlers allows, “could fairly evaluate the case and say Jackie Folio did something wrong. Reasonable minds can disagree. And I respect if that’s his belief. And he has a job to do. What I didn’t understand, until recently, was he was engaged all along in protecting [Internal Affairs] from their misconduct. Reasonable minds can’t agree about that. That’s not his job.”

Folio was caught up in a “random integrity test,” ostensibly designed to create a situation that any cop in the vicinity could end up responding to, but she says she wonders how random her test actually was. About a month prior to the Burgess incident, Folio says, she responded as a backup to a very similar (and fruitless) call for drug activity a block from her Southeastern District post. And, she says, her girlfriend, Officer Lisa Olszewski, believes she was the target of a similar test set up two weeks after the Burgess sting. Since Internal Affairs won’t tell officers when or whether they’ve been tested, or if they passed, there’s no way to know for sure if the incidents were, in fact, Internal Affairs integrity tests.

Folio isn’t the only one with questions about the fairness and effectiveness of the methods the BPD uses to police its officers. A group of African-American officers filed a discrimination lawsuit last December against the city and the police department alleging that the department selectively uses disciplinary procedures to discriminate against certain types of officers. The lawsuit’s charges, which go all the way back to 1992, include allegations that Malone, as chief of legal from 2000 to 2002, discriminated by initiating investigations of officers, deciding which charges would be brought or dismissed, and influencing the outcomes of charges against them, including in trial-board matters.

The city’s response to the discrimination lawsuit casts off the allegations as an “attempt to undermine the disciplinary procedures” of the department, and claims that Malone enjoys “absolute immunity for any claim arising from their conduct in initiating and prosecuting disciplinary charges.”

Of course, problems with the department’s self-policing pre-date Malone. A 1996 study by the Baltimore City Community Relations Commission determined that 75 percent of terminated officers were black, even though black officers made up less than half the force. The study also found that 90 percent of black officers who went to department trial board were found guilty, while only 60 percent of white officers called before trial board met the same fate.

The commission’s report prompted a probe by the City Council’s Legislative Investigations Committee, headed at that time by then-Councilman Martin O’Malley. At its conclusion in 1998, O’Malley’s committee issued another report that confirmed widespread disparities in the disciplinary treatment of black and white officers, concluding that the most shameful aspect of the findings was “our failure to root out these problems when they are brought to our attention.”

Steve Kearney, the mayor’s director of policy and communications, says the police department under the O’Malley administration in 2000 started the integrity test program—the very one that netted Folio—as “a direct outcome” of the 1998 report, and that, in addition, the selection of trial board members has become random and less politicized than in the past. Department spokesman Jablow says that the IAD has conducted 460 integrity tests since 2000 and that four officers have failed them. He would not name the officers who failed; presumably, Jackie Folio is one of them.


“I’ve never seen stuff like this,” says a 30-plus-year BPD veteran who spent more than a decade doing internal investigations. He asked not to be named out of fear of retribution before his pending retirement. “It’s really gotten out of control, with the state’s attorney working as an instrument of [Internal Affairs], taking weak cases like Folio’s, indicting, and losing,” the BPD veteran says. “It’s done to harass, embarrass, and coerce [people] into resigning. But I’ve never, ever seen them do what they’re doing to Jackie—abolish some police officer’s position just to avoid letting them have a trial board. It’s profoundly befuddling.”

The “nucleus” of these problems, the veteran agrees, “is Malone, but he’s the mayor’s guy, so nobody steps up and objects.”

The way to make good police-corruption cases, he advises, is to “do them targeted, based on good intelligence—so-and-so’s dirty, so target him and find out. Maybe it takes three, four weeks to set up a targeted, but you end up with good, strong cases—and there are good cases out there to be made.

“But the mayor likes randoms, because it represents numbers,” the veteran continues. “With large numbers of randoms—which take a few days to set up—you can rack up the numbers and say you’re working hard to clean up the department, even though all you’re really doing is taking resources away from targeted cases. With randoms, more times than not, you end up with nothing.”

Former BPD sergeant Andre Street, a 25-year veteran who retired in 1995, remembers how random tests in the past had to be designed for total control of the environment. For example, Internal Affairs detectives might have planted a couple of joints in plain view on the floorboards of a patrol car: “They’d watch, do [the officers] follow procedures? Do they keep it, whether for personal use or as drop items to pin charges on a suspect? It was controlled because it didn’t put citizens at risk. Whatever you do you should do without involving the public. You have to plan for every contingency and be prepared to pull the plug at any time and say, ‘The gig’s up.’”

Ahlers, too, has a few ideas about how better to go about catching corrupt police. “Almost every study ever done about police corruption,” he asserts, “says that you look at the vice and narcotics units, not patrol. If you’re trying to find out if police officers get free coffee at 7-Eleven, yeah, maybe patrol officers are involved in that. But if you are looking for who is protecting organizations of criminals, you have to look at units that go after organized crime. At that level, what the criminal wants to know is, can they pay somebody for information or can they pay somebody for protection, and that’s really not going to happen at the uniformed officer patrol level.

“There are a lot of ways they could do this. Instead, they end up doing Jackie Folio and trying to cover up their own culpability.”


In the Folio case, a poorly planned and executed random sting netted a police officer allegedly lying in charging documents and inadvertently raised questions that cut right to the heart of how police are policed in this town. But what happened to Burgess, the falsely arrested suspect? His post-sting story suggests even more problems.

On April 15, 2003, about two weeks after the Folio sting, Burgess allegedly sold drugs to an undercover officer on the 3700 block of East Pratt Street and was charged with conspiracy theft. On July 24 of that year, the state’s attorney declined to prosecute the charges. On May 1, 2003, Burgess earned assault and deadly-weapon charges thanks to his alleged connection with a large, drug-related fracas in the 3600 block of Eastern Avenue, but the state’s attorney declined to prosecute those charges, either. On Aug. 28, 2003, Burgess was charged with indecent exposure when he allegedly tried to force his way—while openly masturbating—into a woman’s home on the 2000 block of East Baltimore Street as she tried to stop him. The state’s attorney declined to take those charges to court, as well. On Oct. 29, 2003, Burgess was stopped on Conkling Street in Highlandtown after police say they observed him throw suspected drugs to the ground, and then, after searching him, found more drugs. The possession charge against him resulting from the incident was not pursued by the state’s attorney’s office. Burgess accrued all of these charges prior to his giving testimony at the December 2003 criminal trial of Jackie Folio.

Burgess’ attorney, William Buie, tells City Paper he advises his client, who is currently locked up and awaiting trial on several violent charges, including rape, not to talk to the paper while the current charges are pending. Assistant State’s Attorney Thomas Krehely had not returned calls by press time requesting an interview regarding the past charges against Burgess, or any deal police and prosecutors may have struck with him.

Burgess seems to have enjoyed extraordinary luck in avoiding any recriminations for a time, but police and prosecutors have managed to force Folio to retire, even when they failed to prove she was criminally culpable for pinning false charges on Burgess. And now, with Commissioner Hamm having retracted his order forcing her to retire, it is possible Folio may be asked to return to duty and then fired by the department if she fails to comply.

On April 4, department spokesman Jablow told City Paper that, in fact, Folio’s trial board hearing had been rescheduled for later this month—and trial boards are only held in matters involving police officers, not retired police officers. Moreover, as this story was going to press on April 5, the spokesman issued a written statement denying that Folio’s being made the patsy for the department’s failures.

“Agent Folio’s allegations of a conspiracy are entirely untrue,” BPD’s statement reads. “The truth is that she has been charged administratively with making a false statement—a statement that resulted in an innocent man being arrested. The citizens of Baltimore demand and deserve better. In light of these charges, an internal hearing board will soon be convened to determine if Agent Folio violated police department policy.”

Folio laughs when told over the phone about the rescheduled hearing—BPD told the press about it before notifying her. “Isn’t that lovely?” she jokes. Then the laughter stops, and her voice turns serious and sad.

“I feel like I’m in an abusive domestic relationship,” she says. “I never thought I’d be going out like this.”

Old Business: Martin O’Malley’s Failed Promise As Baltimore Mayor Will Stay With Him, No Matter Who Wins The Governor’s Race

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Nov. 1 2006


In the summer of 1999, when then-City Councilman Martin O’Malley was running for mayor of Baltimore at age 36, he wrote With Change There Is Hope: A Blueprint for Baltimore’s Future. It was a two-part, two-booklet title (pictured), one bound in a green cover, the other blue. They were handed out far and wide during the last weeks of the 1999 campaign. O’Malley dubbed them collectively as “my epistle” or “my book,” and separately as “the Green Book” and “the Blue Book.”

Today, With Change There Is Hope represents a sweeping archive of O’Malley’s promises to voters. In politics, that’s a contract, a document that sets down what’s expected of the victor in return for votes. There is no penalty for failing to uphold the contract, but when its terms aren’t met, elections–such as the gubernatorial one that will decide between Democrat O’Malley, Republican incumbent Robert Ehrlich, and Green Party candidate Ed Boyd on Nov. 7–can result either in punishment or forgiveness.

Baltimore’s voters held up their end of the bargain with O’Malley when they first backed him seven years ago. O’Malley was expected to deliver–a lot. He’d set his plan down in the 40-page Green Book, which focused on crime reduction, and the 80-page Blue Book, which covered everything else–and how all of it is tied to the crime rate. Those who supported O’Malley’s re-election in the 2004 election did so despite the fact that many of his pledges remained unmet. Now, joined by voters in the rest of the state, they will decide whether to back him again in his bid for governor. O’Malley still owes Baltimore. If he wins the election, he’ll be expected to pay it back from the statehouse. If he loses, he’ll work off his debt at City Hall.

O’Malley focuses on the debt paid, not the debt remaining, as he makes the campaign rounds for governor. He has plenty of accomplishments with which to fill speeches. The main one, perhaps, was described in an Oct. 5 speech at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health: “Instead of wallowing in a culture of failure and excuses, we came together to take on the tough challenges and made progress.”

Running to replace Ehrlich this year, O’Malley recites a concisely packaged 10-point plan instead of handing out lengthy manifestos. Copies of With Change There Is Hope are hard to come by today. They are not available online. Google its title with the word “Baltimore,” and all that comes up is a link to City Paper‘s 2002 Best of Baltimore “Best Scandal: Police Corruption” blurb. But O’Malley’s 7-year-old collection of green and blue IOUs remains in the archives of history, ready to be dusted off once again.

“My approach as mayor will focus on two basic concepts–urgency and accountability,” he wrote in the Blue Book’s conclusion, after setting the bar for his own performance. He wanted change, urgently, and change came after he became mayor. But it often came not as promised, or sometimes not at all. That’s not surprising, given O’Malley’s great expectations. Urgency is hard to measure (he certainly seemed urgent), but accountability is O’Malley’s middle name. Now he’s accountable for how things changed, or have not.

Just as the mayor’s CitiStat program tries to keep city agencies on their toes by measuring government activities, journalists can apply statistical yardsticks to O’Malley’s promises. There are two sources of information for this exercise: what O’Malley said would happen, and what happened according to the numbers and known circumstances. (Numerous phone messages and e-mails to the mayor’s communications director, Steve Kearney, and O’Malley spokespersons Rick Abbruzzese and Raquel Guillory, were not returned.) Given the vast landscape of his panoramic vision for Baltimore in With Change There Is Hope, it’s best to begin by concentrating, as O’Malley did when he first ran for mayor, on a single issue: crime, and how everything hinges on it.


O’Malley’s June 23, 1999, mayoral campaign announcement speech, delivered at the corner of Harford Road and the Alameda, drew a small crowd. He made up for the lack of attention by using the speech’s text as the Green Book’s opener: “My name is Martin O’Malley. I believe I can turn this city around by making it a safer place, and I mean to begin doing it now.”

First, though, O’Malley had to get elected, and right off the bat his credibility was questioned. He told a story in the speech about having been to the same corner the previous midnight, when he was approached by a drug dealer, who asked, “What do you want?” The exchange gave O’Malley a rhetorical hook for his announcement.

“That’s a question,” the would-be mayor said to 30 or so supporters gathered to hear his speech, “that each of us in this city needs to answer in this important election year.”

Sun columnist Dan Rodricks suspected the hook was hogwash and immediately got on the case. Rodricks visited the neighborhood and found a resident who said that Harford Road and the Alameda is not a drug corner, but a “hackin’ corner” where “guys hang out lookin’ for rides.” O’Malley told Rodricks “it’s no big deal,” and explained that the guy on the corner who gave him his “What do you want?” line for the speech “was doing that hand motion they do when the markets open. It’s a notorious corner. That’s what they do there.” But, Rodricks reported, O’Malley “can’t say for sure that the young guy wanted to sell him drugs. It’s a hunch.” The columnist gave O’Malley’s poetic license its propers: “Good stuff, councilman. Even without that Monday-midnight story.”

O’Malley is prone to hunches, and has thus far benefited from people forgiving him when they don’t pan out. His main hunch as a councilman with mayoral ambitions was that if you solve the crime problem, everything else will fall into place. From O’Malley’s perspective, the revival of schools, housing, health, jobs, population, investment, tax revenues, the real-estate market–in short, all that makes cities tick–depended on public safety, government’s primary responsibility. He waxed on this theme in the Green Book, asking voters to “Imagine how quickly our great City will come back to life when we get hold of public safety and start closing down our expanding drug markets.” He pointed to other cities, such as New York, as crime-fighting models and suggested we simply copy what worked elsewhere.

In a 1999 phone interview about his crime plan, O’Malley was emphatic. “There is no way to create jobs or to improve the business environment if the only businesses expanding are these open-air drug markets. So that’s first and foremost,” he asserted. “It affects everything.” He went on to spell out his policing strategy, which had various names: “quality of life,” “zero tolerance,” and “broken windows.” The idea, he said, was to “improve the reality of public safety” by “changing enforcement priorities, by redefining the mission of the police as restoring public order on our corners and improving quality of life on our corners. When you do that the bigger crimes become easier to solve and easier to deter, and you drive the drug markets indoors, which drives down the random violence that is inflating our numbers to be some of the worst in the nation.”

At O’Malley’s announcement, he called the corner where he was standing an “open-air drug market,” and promised within six months to make it and nine others like it “things of our city’s past.” He added that “in the second year, 20 more open-air drug markets will likewise be shut down, and thus will the people of this city easily measure our success or failure.”

After six months in office, in a letter to The Sun, the mayor explained that he’d taken care of the 10 drug corners. And he described how it had happened: Police, city inspectors, and public-works crews had tidied them up, pronto. It was that easy.

The two-year mark in 2002, by which time O’Malley promised 20 more cleaned-up corners came and went without fanfare. As 2003 began, public frustration about the continuing crime problem was evident.

“We still have open-air drug markets on our corners,” City Councilman Bernard “Jack” Young (D-12th District)–usually, like most members of the council, an O’Malley ally–told the Baltimore Afro American in late January 2003. “Point-blank, nothing’s changed. We’re paying all of this overtime to the police. Where is the change?” O’Malley’s hunch was being called into question.

The experience of crime in Baltimore neighborhoods is as varied as the neighborhoods themselves. What feels to many like improvements under Mayor O’Malley–seemingly safer and clearly more prosperous communities around the waterfront, along the north-south axis of Charles Street, along the Northeast Baltimore thoroughfares of Belair and Harford roads, and in certain other key neighborhoods like Hampden–feels to others like it’s not happening in their neighborhoods. Because the improvements are concentrated in waterfront neighborhoods and the central north-south spine of the city, they are more evident than the sluggish expanses of the east and west sides, where change has come more slowly, if at all.

With or without dramatic crime reductions, though, the city has been rebounding in many ways, and O’Malley’s re-election in 2004 affirmed and affixed the notion that he was doing alright as mayor. Many understood that he would soon run for governor. Once he announced his candidacy for state office, O’Malley’s record as mayor became Republicans’ main message when promoting Ehrlich. They can do that because O’Malley’s hunch hasn’t worked itself out yet.


If O’Malley was wrong about crime being the foremost determinant of the city’s fortunes, then there’s room for forgiveness. Crime in many ways has trended downward, particularly in some parts of the city and for some types of crime. But low interest rates, not reduced bloodshed, likely had more to do with the city’s improved performance under O’Malley.

In the Blue Book, O’Malley noted that in 1999 “City houses fetch roughly one half of what they do in Baltimore County,” because of the prevalence of crime in the city. Since 1999, “thanks to reductions in crime and increased investment in the city, average home values in Baltimore have risen 120%,” according to O’Malley’s campaign web site.

Crime reductions may have helped, but the key factor was the residential real-estate market boom created by historically low interest rates and rising demand. The 2004 median sales price for a Baltimore single-family home was $130,500, compared to $215,000 in Baltimore County. Thus, instead of city houses selling for half the value of county houses, under O’Malley they began selling at about 60 percent of what county houses get. The value of city single-family homes gained slightly more than 35 percent between 2002 and 2004, an amount a tad higher than in Baltimore County.

Real-estate values and tax revenues tend to rise and fall together, and they both jumped under O’Malley, as expected during times of cheap money. In 2000, city revenues stood at about $1.4 billion. In 2004, they broke $2 billion, and stood at $2.1 billion in 2005. Increasing real-estate values helped a lot on the property-tax front, aided by new taxes instituted by O’Malley.

The level of private investment in the city, likewise, has increased substantially. Little scaffolding and few cranes were part of Baltimore’s streetscape in the 1990s, but they are common sights today. The O’Malley administration says the value of development activity under way in 2005 was estimated to be $2 billion, whereas ongoing projects in 2000 added up to a little less than $900 million.

O’Malley’s gubernatorial campaign biography states that, as mayor, he has “promoted job growth by attracting over $10 billion in economic development” and “nearly ended Baltimore’s decades-long population loss.” But jobs and population declined in the city, and unemployment rose from 5.9 percent in 2000 to 7.1 percent in 2005. Job loss from 1999 to ’04 hit Baltimore hard, taking away about 40,000 jobs–the most among Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions, as was the city’s loss of about 15,000 residents from 2000 to ’05. A 2002 U.S. Census snapshot of the city’s unemployment situation pointed out key disparities: While the overall unemployment rate was 6.8 percent, white men were at 2.1 percent and black men at 11.8 percent. The city made the top-10 list in the country for average weekly wage growth in 2005, but at the same time lost more jobs–5,800–than almost all of the 323 large cities and counties studied. While the city’s employment outlook hits some harder than others, the jobs that remain are paying better, and the loss of jobs went along with ongoing loss in population.

The jobs lost under O’Malley came on the heels of all the jobs lost before him. In the Blue Book, O’Malley painted a bleak picture of the Kurt Schmoke years, describing job declines in manufacturing, transportation, retail, banking, and hospitals. The situation hardly improved after O’Malley was elected. Between 2001 and ’04, Baltimore lost nearly 5 percent of its jobs. A quarter of its manufacturing jobs, 15 percent of its banking and finance jobs, 5 percent of its retail jobs–all disappeared in a four-year span. The drop in public employment was pronounced, especially local government jobs, which fell by nearly 4,000 positions, more than 12 percent. Only three sectors posted major job gains: hospitals, educational services, and the hotel and restaurant industry.

Under Mayor Schmoke, the city lost an average of 722 jobs per month, O’Malley calculated in the Blue Book. Between 2001 and ’04 under O’Malley, the city lost an average of 432 jobs per month. That’s a dramatic improvement, but it is still a drastic rate of job loss–especially when the surrounding counties are alive with job growth. The Blue Book pointed out that the surrounding counties posted a gain of 104,000 jobs when Schmoke was mayor, an average of 963 new jobs each month. Between 2001 and ’04, with O’Malley as mayor, the surrounding counties added nearly 63,500 new jobs, an average of 1,322 jobs per month.

Thus, while the city’s job loss has slowed under O’Malley, it has not reversed, as O’Malley predicted. And the surrounding counties’ job growth accelerated by about 40 percent. Baltimore remains the hole in the doughnut of regional employment trends.

The public schools, well, they’re still a mess, but there are bright spots. As the city’s population declines, so does school enrollment–by an average of 2,900 students per year since O’Malley became mayor, bringing the total down to about 85,000. While some of the trends in standardized test scores are good, many others are not. Graduation rates are up for seniors getting a regular education, but down dramatically for the increasing share of students in special education. The money spent to achieve these results has increased dramatically on a cost-per-student basis, and has been the target of near-permanent scandal over the school system’s financial accountability.

In the Blue Book, O’Malley reported that in 1997 only 16.6 percent of third-graders’ scores were “satisfactory” under the state reading tests. This statistic is recited again on O’Malley’s campaign web site, and updated with the claim that O’Malley “helped 61% of the third graders meet those state standards last year.” The standardized tests were changed in 2002. Under the new ones, the percent of third-graders with “proficient” reading scores has risen annually, from 38 percent in 2003 to 59 percent in ’06, when the statewide scores had risen from 50 percent to 63 percent. The same happened with third-grade math scores, with the percent of proficient third-graders rising to 52 today from 40 in 2003, when the statewide scores had jumped only four points, from 50 to 54. That’s some of the good news.

Some of the bad news is that only 2 percent of special-education high-school students passed the high-school English standardized test in 2005. That 2.1 percent passed in 2006 is nothing to brag about, since it indicates that students in the city’s large special-education program don’t have much of an education to look forward to.

As students continue in school, their improved scores in earlier grades should be reflected in improvements as they reach higher grades. In some cases, this has happened, but not in others. The third-grade class of 2004, for instance, was tested again as fifth-graders this year, when its proficiency in math and reading both were significantly higher than those of prior fifth-grade classes. But the sixth-grade class of 2004, which was entering first grade when O’Malley was elected mayor, is another story. When the class reached eighth-grade this year, its share of students scoring proficiently dropped in both math and reading compared to its sixth-grade scores.

O’Malley’s Blue Book measured city schools’ graduation rates harshly, saying that “only 25 percent of ninth graders . . . ever graduate. This is unacceptable.” The percent of regular-education 12th-graders graduating is rising, from 58 percent in 2002 to 64 percent today. But the drop in the share of special-education 12th-graders graduating went from 65 percent in 2002 to 35 percent today.

When running for mayor, O’Malley’s intentions about special education were clear: He wanted significant improvements, and a reduction in the size of the program. He said that, at the time, 18 percent of the student population was enrolled in special education, and he wanted that number to drop to 13. By 2000, it had dropped to 17 percent, which is where it remained in 2005. Meanwhile, by O’Malley’s figures from his first mayoral campaign, the cost of educating each special-education student per year was $9,680. Since then, it has increased by a fifth, and stands at $11,722 per student.

In his governor’s campaign biography, O’Malley expresses pride in city schools, claiming that “for the past three years, elementary school students have posted higher scores in reading, language arts, and mathematics at every grade level.” That’s an accomplishment that would make any mayor proud. But O’Malley, by law, does not control the city school system. As mayor, he is an equal partner with the state in its success or failure–an equal partner with the government headed by his gubernatorial opponent, Robert Ehrlich. “Our children should not suffer due to adult disagreements,” O’Malley wrote in the Blue Book. “In the future, Baltimore should, once again, take greater responsibility for our school system. But we also must build continually on the partnership we have established with Annapolis–it is in the best interest of our children.”

The city-state partnership has suffered from scandal after scandal arising from lack of accountability in recent years, leaving the city school system in such a shambles that it is surprising some children are able to learn adequately. Neither the city nor the state has stepped up to take unilateral responsibility, though their collective responsibility is there for all to see. O’Malley takes credit for the good where he can–with some improved test scores in some grades–and, either as governor or as mayor, may be in a position to do more for at least a couple more years. But he’ll also have to live with the bad, until the system gets fixed.


Baltimore under O’Malley is a mixed bag of results, and it’s hard to say changes in the crime rate made it so. By the raw numbers, though, Baltimore is safer now than when O’Malley started. In the first six months of 2000, when he was working off his obligation to clear the 10 corners, the city logged 141 murders, 161 rapes, 3,010 robberies, and 4,530 aggravated assaults, including 700 nonfatal shootings. In 2005, the totals from January to June were much rosier. Murder was down 3 percent, rape had dropped by more than half, robbery saw a 40 percent reduction, and aggravated assaults were reduced nearly a quarter, including a near 30 percent drop in shootings. The same number of under-18-year-olds–47–were murdered in 2002 as were in 1996, but in the first 10 months of this year 22 kids were killed, and all of last year saw only 14 juvenile homicides, so the situation appears to be getting less bloody for Baltimore’s teens.

Yet, despite these numbers and O’Malley’s optimism and declarations of success, frustrations and distrust about the prevalence of crime abound. Some of O’Malley’s crime numbers remain under the pall of a state effort to audit his numbers this year, an effort that the mayor rebuffed. And O’Malley’s earlier use of an audit of the 1999 figures to establish the baseline for his claims of crime reduction has been called into question.

O’Malley’s handpicked benchmarks in the Green Book set a high bar, and, although he didn’t meet many of them, they often moved in the direction he promised. His Green Book said public-safety improvements in the first two years of the O’Malley administration, for instance, should reflect New York’s as it first adopted quality-of-life policing under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the mid-1990s. When Giuliani was first starting out, murder went down 40 percent, robbery 30 percent, burglary a quarter, and rape by 8 percent, according to the Green Book’s figures.

By three of these measures, O’Malley fell short. His first two years saw nearly a fifth fewer murders and burglaries, and a quarter fewer robberies–all smaller drops than what Giuliani delivered. (Given the doubts about the Baltimore’s 1999 crime numbers, 1998 was used as the base year for this analysis, giving O’Malley three years to accomplish what Giuliani did in two.) But on the fourth category, rape, O’Malley achieved a reduction of about 40 percent, more than five times larger than New York’s. Rape later became a category of crime suspected in 2003 of being under-reported by Baltimore police, and, after an audit, a 15 percent upward correction in the 2002 numbers was ordered.

O’Malley’s second-guessed crime numbers have historical poignancy. When he was a councilman, O’Malley made a name for himself by proving that then-Mayor Schmoke’s police department was cooking its books to augment its mid-1990s crime-reduction claims. Today’s data-accuracy doubts suggest that perhaps O’Malley’s police department somehow has been aping the bad behavior of Schmoke’s department, though hard evidence of this has yet to arrive. Pending future findings, which themselves may end up subject to charges of inaccuracy, the numbers O’Malley’s police department reported to the FBI are the best available data about Baltimore crime.

The raw numbers about crime reduction that O’Malley likes to cite, though, tend not to take into account the decline in the city’s population. Do so, and Baltimore’s murder rate goes from 40.3 murders for every 100,000 residents in 2000 to 42 in 2005. Thus, it makes sense that many people believe Baltimore remains as murderous as it was before O’Malley became mayor–because Baltimore was, in fact, a bit more murderous, per capita, in 2005 than it was in 2000.

O’Malley pledged in the Green Book to make Baltimore a lot less murderous, by taking the toll down to 175 homicides in 2002. This bold goal helped him get elected 1999, when there were 305 murders. But when 2002 closed out, there were 78 more homicides than he’d promised. Boston, a city of a little less than 600,000 people, and one which the Green Book points to as a model for Baltimore to follow, had 60 murders that year, by way of comparison.

Baltimore’s crime rates look bad when compared to other large U.S. cities, and the numbers hardly improved from 2000 to 2005. After five years of O’Malley, there were 17.6 violent crimes for every 1,000 Baltimore residents in 2005, nearly 80 percent more than the big-city average. In 2000, as in 2005, the city’s murder rate was nearly three times higher than the average for cities of between a half-million and a million people. Robberies in 2000 were 2.6 times more common in Baltimore than in other large cities, and aggravated assaults (including shootings) were 2.2 times more prevalent. Five years into the O’Malley administration, the violence had fallen off, but still occurred at nearly double the rates in other large cities.

In With Change There Is Hope, O’Malley observed that “Baltimore is today the fourth deadliest city in the nation, and the city’s murder rate is seven times higher than in the average city.” Time hasn’t changed much in that regard. In 2005, Baltimore’s murder rate was still seven times the average for U.S. cities. In the 2005 Detroit mayoral race, the fact that only Baltimore had a higher murder rate than Detroit was put in play on the campaign trail. This year, in a ranking against 31 other cities with populations over a half-million, Baltimore was second most dangerous, with Detroit earning the top dishonor.

Where violence is concentrated is where the greatest crime reductions are possible. Traditionally in contemporary Baltimore, the brunt of the violence has disproportionately fallen on the Eastern and Western police districts, compared to the other seven districts. After a period of increasing violence in O’Malley’s first term, it is here, in the Eastern and Western districts, where crime numbers show improvements–fulfilling some of the expectations O’Malley created.

From 1999 to ’02, the share of the citywide homicides happening in the Eastern and Western districts rose from nearly 30 percent to more than 40 percent. Murders were dropping in the city (from 305 in 1999 to 253 in 2002), yet these two districts were showing substantial increases in their body count. That’s now changed. In 2005, the Eastern and Western’s combined tally had dropped 30 percent from 2002’s level, while the rest of the city’s homicides had jumped up a quarter. The burden is shared now by four other districts–the Southern, Southwestern, Northern, and Southeastern–joining the Western with more murders in 2005 than they’d had in 1999.

The recent geographical shift in Baltimore homicides suggests O’Malley in some ways is starting to mirror Giuliani’s 1990s crime-fighting success in New York. In 1999, just before O’Malley declared for mayor, the New Republic ran a cover story on Giuliani that examined an important trend in the Big Apple’s crime reduction: The sharpest crime drops were seen in the area’s that needed them the most. Harlem’s crime fell 61 percent between 1994 and ’98, for example, and East New York’s murders went from 110 in 1993 to 37 in ’98. Similarly, in Baltimore, the Eastern and Western police districts have recently shown substantial improvements, although several other districts have experienced increases in crime.

Overall, though, the picture on the crime front is pretty bleak compared to O’Malley’s expectations and how it compares to the rest of urban America. “With public will, energy and political leadership,” O’Malley wrote in the Blue Book in 1999, “Baltimore will join the ranks of America’s great rejuvenated cities that are growing safer, larger, and more diverse . . . That is my pledge.” Now it’s seven years later, and Baltimore continues to earn its title as one of the most violent cities in America.


Unlike his crime figures, O’Malley’s budget figures aren’t a matter for debate. In the Green Book, O’Malley indicated that the added cost of his crime plan was, well, nothing, or not much more. “The real solution in Baltimore is not to double size of the broken system,” he wrote about the police department, “but to implement the simple procedural reforms that will make greater use of the substantial resources already in place.” And in the 1999 phone interview, he said crime reductions under his watch would cover the reform costs, explaining that he planned to “increase city revenues by making this city a dramatically safer place quickly, and thereby reversing our loss of population.” He predicted that crime reduction would pay for everything, and then he pulled a George Bush I, promising that “I am dead-set opposed to raising taxes.”

The upshot from the police budget trends is this: a growing proportion of cops at desks, costing a larger amount of money. The department’s budget went up 25 percent from 2002 to ’07, the current fiscal year. Two parts of the departmental budget went up more than 100 percent: Administrative Direction and Control jumped from to $15.5 million to $32 million, while money for the Office of Criminal Justice Policy more than tripled, from $3.5 million to $12 million. Together, the administrative and policy slices of the police pie grew from 7 to 13 percent, while all other parts of the department saw their slices shrink. Though the overall budget went up, department-wide staffing levels dropped by nearly 5 percent from 2002 to today. Administrative staffing jumped nearly 8 percent–the only kind of police staffing that grew. Yet O’Malley’s campaign web site states that he “put more cops on the streets as part of a comprehensive plan to reduce crime.”

The five-year growth of the police budget wasn’t paid for with revenue resulting from an increased city population, as O’Malley had predicted. Population continued to fall, though more slowly. Rather, money was available to expand the police budget because of rising real-estate values and the mayor’s new taxes on energy, cell phones, and real-estate transactions, O’Malley’s prior no-new-taxes pledge notwithstanding. Because of the additional revenues, he was able to keep some promises.

O’Malley vowed in the Green Book to increase funding for the State’s Attorney’s Office “as long as it stays committed to the path of reform, and committed to keeping repeat violent offenders off the street.” The city’s contribution to State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy’s office has been boosted from $21.6 million in 2002 to $30.4 million today, a more than 40 percent raise that has allowed staffing levels for prosecutions to increase by 55 positions.

The mayor has been true to drug treatment, too. “Since 1996, annual funding for drug treatment in Baltimore has doubled from $16.5 million to $33 million,” O’Malley wrote in the Green Book, indicating this is a positive trend he’d like to continue. And he has. Drug treatment funding under O’Malley increased to $53 million in 2005.

Teen motherhood and other health indicators affect crime trends over the long term, and O’Malley aimed to oversee their decline. He pointed out that in 1997 “nearly 10 percent” of city girls aged 15 to 19 had babies. There was a steep decline after O’Malley took office, and in 2004 the proportion of girls that age who had babies was 6.8 percent. He wanted infant mortality to decline, reporting that the city in 1997 lost newborns at a rate of 14.4 babies per 1,000 live births, “nearly double the state’s rate,” he wrote. It dropped significantly. In 2005, the infant mortality rate had declined to 11.3, half again as high as the state’s.

O’Malley pointed out in the Green Book–as Jay Leno was saying, too, on The Tonight Show at the time–that Baltimore is “the syphilis capital of the United States.” As O’Malley wrote those words, the syphilis rate was in steep decline. In 1999, Indianapolis became the syphilis capital, after Baltimore’s rate had dropped 45 percent in one year. In 2002, Baltimore was ranked 11th among U.S. cities, with an incidence rate of 18.6 cases per 100,000 people. That year, 120 cases were reported. But the disease jumped sharply in 2004, when 209 cases were reported for a rate of 33.2, placing Baltimore third in the nation, behind San Francisco and Atlanta.

Two other sexually transmissible diseases were mentioned in O’Malley’s book, gonorrhea and chlamydia. Baltimore “is rated number two in the U.S. for active cases of gonorrhea,” he wrote at the time. It has dropped significantly since then, but Baltimore was still the fourth-highest city on the list for active cases of gonorrhea in 2004, the most recent ranking available. When O’Malley sought to become mayor, he explained that Baltimore’s national rank was “third for active cases of chlamydia.” The city’s chlamydia rate has actually risen significantly since then, yet its national ranking dropped to seventh highest–an improvement, of sorts.

O’Malley recently summed up his disease-fighting record much more succinctly, and no less truthfully: “Syphillis [sic] is down 75% since 1997 and Gonorrhea is down 45% since 1995.” These surgically selected statistics are posted, along with the rest of O’Malley’s Oct. 5 Hopkins speech, on his campaign web site (www.martinomalley.com).

Baltimore’s improved status on drug-related emergency-room visits, an important indicator of drug abuse, is impressive, but still marginal in the national context. In 1999, O’Malley wrote that Baltimore is “rated number one in the nation for hospital emergency room admissions involving substance abuse.” In 2005, it was tied with New York and Boston for third in the nation.


But O’Malley failed on some important other promises, such as the one about reducing the need to arrest people. The Green Book was adamant about giving police expanded power to issue civil citations for minor crimes, which was expected to free the courts of petty cases. “Through the use of citations–which make fewer arrests necessary–and courthouse reforms that keep innocent people and minor criminals from languishing in jail for weeks before trial,” O’Malley predicted that “fewer people may actually be locked up using quality-of-life policing strategies.” At the very least, he promised that “quality-of-life policing does not mean arresting and locking up our city’s young men indiscriminately.”

Under Schmoke, there had been 70,000 arrests in 1997 and 85,000 in 1998. After several years of quality-of-life police work, in 2004 O’Malley’s expanded civil-citation powers were put in place. In 2005, city police logged around 100,000 arrests. In 2006, the city was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who raised charges of widespread indiscriminate arrests. So much for the less-arrests theory of zero-tolerance policing.

O’Malley’s record on police corruption and misconduct has a level of intrigue appropriate to the cloak-and-dagger milieu of internal investigations. His campaign pledges on the issue were zealous. “We know,” he wrote in the Green Book, “that when the police are encouraged to be more assertive, government must become more assertive and open in its policing of the police.” He’d been complaining about police corruption and misconduct under Schmoke’s commissioners for years, and yet “our problem has only gotten worse,” he insisted, adding that “There is nothing more harmful to effective law enforcement, and more devastating to the morale of law-abiding citizens and law enforcement officers, than police misconduct.”

To fight it, O’Malley pledged in the Green Book to “open the Police Department’s internal investigation process, to assure the public that police problems are not being swept under the rug by colleagues’ complicity.”

Immediately after gaining City Hall, O’Malley asked outside consultants to look at the department’s problems. Among their tasks was a survey of police personnel about street-level corruption, which showed that 23 percent of the department believed that more than a quarter of its officers were “involved in stealing money or drugs from drug dealers.” The survey put numbers on the idea that the Baltimore police had a corruption problem.

And yet nothing much happened. Not for years. There were two corruption arrests that didn’t pan out. The case against officer Brian Sewell, suspected in 2000 of planting drugs on an innocent suspect, became suspicious when police evidence against him disappeared during a break-in at internal investigators’ offices, and the charges were dropped by prosecutors in 2001. Officer Jacqueline Folio, accused of a false drug arrest, was found not guilty in a 2003 criminal trial, and the department’s administrative case against her was so full of exculpatory evidence and apparent attempts at cover-ups that she was cleared entirely–and settled her own lawsuit against the city over the whole, career-ending episode. At the end of 2003, police said they had conducted 202 “random integrity tests” to catch bad cops since 2000, yet the only cops nabbed were Sewell and Folio.

The quiet continued. In early January of this year, The Washington Post reported that O’Malley had been booed at a legislative hearing over his department’s high volume of arrests, and that the mayor countered that aggressive arrests would be reflected in increased misconduct complaints, which were down. He was soon to lose the use of that argument at hearings, for 2006 quickly became a memorable year in the annals of Baltimore police misbehavior.

Two days after the legislative hearing, on Jan. 6, a city grand jury charged three officers with rape, unearthing evidence that their undercover squad was corrupt in other ways as well. In April, a federal jury convicted two Baltimore police detectives for robbing drug dealers, a city grand jury charged an officer with stealing rims off a car belonging to an arrested citizen, and an officer caught a gambling conviction. In July, two officers were charged in Baltimore County in separate crimes–fraud and theft in one case, and burglary and stalking in the other. And in August, a Baltimore officer was charged with identity theft in Pennsylvania.

As a councilman and mayoral candidate, O’Malley was passionate about the idea that the police department needed a housecleaning. Police officers “after all are only human,” he said in the 1999 phone interview, so they must be policed “to insure that temptation, unchecked anger, and prejudice do not tarnish the moral authority necessary for a police department to effectively perform its job.” After five years of relative quiet punctuated by weak corruption cases under O’Malley, what he predicted in 1999–“well publicized arrests of clusters of officers who are lured away by the easy money and lucrative money of the drug trade,” as he put it in a 1999 phone interview–is finally coming true.


The Green Book set down an anecdote about Schmoke’s police commissioner Thomas Frazier coming before the City Council in September 1996, on the heels of councilman O’Malley’s return from New York to study its policing strategies. “You don’t have to tell me about zero tolerance. I know what they do in New York,” Frazier was quoted as saying. “They’re doing the same thing I started doing here with Greenmount Avenue–close down the open-air drug markets, drive them indoors, and you reduce the violence. . . . I have to be a team player. When we start closing down the open-air drug markets, the judges complain that we’re crowding their courts and the Mayor makes me back off. . . . Tell the judges. I’m only one piece of this criminal justice system.”

And so is Mayor O’Malley only one piece of the city’s public-safety complex, though you’d never know that from reading the Green Book. To get elected, he made it seem like he was a one-man crime-fighting machine, that all he had to do was hire a police commissioner to deploy known policing strategies proven successful in other cities, and it would all fall in place–an instant urban revival. It’s doubtful any mayor could have met the expectations O’Malley set for himself, much less one who hasn’t gone through four police commissioners and three interim commissioners the way O’Malley has. Still, he scored points for seeming to try and for being in power when interest rates dropped. This Nov. 7, the state’s voters will decide whether he tried hard enough. Either way, he still owes.

Believe It … Or Not: Measuring O’Malley’s March on Baltimore

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Aug. 27, 2003


Good news is never hard to find when mayors seek re-election. Former Mayor Kurt Schmoke’s last political campaign in 1995 published a whole book of good news about his administration’s then-ongoing efforts in Baltimore. As is now widely recognized, though, the bad news far outweighed the good during the Schmoke years, which were marked by a cerebral approach to governance that produced paltry results and left the city’s psyche stigmatized by failure.

Schmoke’s charismatic successor, Martin O’Malley, was elected in 1999 on an ambitious anti-crime platform and a promising slogan, “For Reform and Change.” He won with a strong mandate that created high expectations and a refreshing sense of hope for the city. As he now runs for re-election as the distinct favorite in the six-way Democratic primary, O’Malley croons earnestly about the upturn Baltimore has seen during his four years in office. While his new campaign slogan–“Because Better Isn’t Good Enough”–suggests that his record has shortcomings he is willing to acknowledge, he’s still found plenty to boast about. Here’s a taste of some of the O’Malley campaign’s bragging points, lifted from its promotional materials:

  • “Baltimore has, in just a few years, achieved the largest [violent-crime] reduction of any major city in America.
  • “Baltimore’s per pupil spending increased by 15 percent [since 1999] . . . improving from 6th to 2nd highest in the state.
  • “In 2002 alone, the Baltimore Development Corporation’s efforts brought 6,000 jobs to Baltimore.”

Also available to help boost civic optimism during this election season is the Believe campaign, a multimillion-dollar advertising effort underwritten largely by the nonprofit Baltimore Police Foundation. The campaign aims to empower Baltimoreans to overcome the ravages of illegal drugs, and its most visible impact has been the thousands of images of the word “believe” that have placarded the city since last year. Believe’s latest media blitz, which started this summer and is ongoing, charts and celebrates the city’s progress since 1999. That’s the year before O’Malley took the reins of City Hall. Thus, Believe’s current feel-good message is not only about Baltimore’s efforts to tamp down its violent drug culture but also about O’Malley’s record as mayor.

Amid this propaganda, it’s hard to know what to trust. Critical thinking, after all, demands an innate skepticism of messages in advertising, because campaigns, whether political or commercial, are designed to make use of advantageous information rather than present a balanced picture.


For instance, one could reason that Baltimore’s chart-topping reduction in violent crime is less remarkable than it sounds because, as the most violent city in the United States in 1999 (now the second most violent, behind Detroit), positive trends here have a greater statistical impact than in other, less violent cities. And while per-pupil spending increased 15 percent overall between 1999 and 2002, school enrollment during that period declined by almost 9 percent. With fewer students entering the system each year, per-student spending would increase naturally with a flat budget–and dramatically so with the modest budget increases that have been secured during O’Malley’s tenure in City Hall.

As for the 6,000 new jobs in 2002, attributed to the work of the city’s quasi-public economic development agency, that’s a lot of slots in a city where the number of unemployed people hovers around 25,000. The fact remains, though, that there were nearly 2,000 more unemployed people in the city’s labor force this June than there were in the beginning of 2002. And the unemployment rate has risen slightly rather than dropped during the same period. These facts strongly suggest that those 6,000 jobs were not filled predominantly by city residents but by commuters from surrounding areas.

Thus, the O’Malley camp’s upbeat take on the last four years begs other relevant ways to plumb Baltimore’s progress–different gauges than O’Malley’s people are emphasizing, ones that instead look at facets of city life not necessarily found in the campaign leaflets. The following results are mixed, and thus will please O’Malley supporters and detractors alike. And they show that O’Malley’s assertion that “better isn’t good enough” is dead-on in summing up his first term. The city’s stock has risen, but there’s room for improvement.


On election day 1999, Martin O’Malley was the beneficiary of a very important statistic when he chalked up 53 percent of the votes in what had shaken down to be a three-way, racially charged Democratic Primary pitting him, a white guy, against former City Councilman Carl Stokes and then-City Council President Lawrence Bell, both of whom are black. “There is more that unites us than divides us,” O’Malley often said that summer–a sentiment that, along with his bold promises to reduce crime using New York City’s successful approach as a model, resonated with an electorate that seemed exhausted from years of decline, violence, and divisiveness.

After the votes were counted, even some of those who worked against him were ebullient. “Martin O’Malley has a clear mandate from the entire city,” said former City Council president, 1995 mayoral candidate, and current 14th District City Council candidate Mary Pat Clarke, who supported Bell in the 1999 race. “This city, black and white, voted for Martin O’Malley. And it was not marginal. It was resounding. He has a mandate to lead the whole city. It’s a wondrous thing to behold.”


O’Malley’s votes in that race, nonetheless, reflected the realities of the city’s stark divide between poor African-Americans and everyone else. The precincts that supported O’Malley–including many predominantly black precincts–were spread thickly across the city, with the exception of two, hard-to-ignore areas: the blighted, poverty-stricken swaths on the east and west sides, which form a butterfly-wing pattern with midtown at the center. These neighborhoods–Upton, Druid Heights, Sandtown-Winchester, Harlem Park, Rosemont, Poppleton, Edmondson Village, and others on the west side, and Middle East, Berea, Clifton Park, Jonestown, Greenmount West, and others on the east side–did not buy into the O’Malley agenda as it was spelled out during the ’99 campaign. Stokes or Bell won most of the votes in these butterfly wings, which are overwhelmingly black and are home to about a third of the city’s population.

These neighborhoods, more than any others in the city, have the most to gain from City Hall’s policies since they suffer most from Baltimore’s famous ills. Here, according to data published by the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (www. bnia. org), a Charles Village-based nonprofit that has taken on the Herculean task of collecting and analyzing myriad measures of Baltimore’s communities, a fifth of all serious crime is violent, vs. a 10th in the rest of the city. Here, more than a third of family households are headed by single mothers, vs. a fifth in the rest of the city. Here, about 60 percent of mothers receive first-trimester pre-natal care, vs. three-quarters of the mothers in the rest of the city. Here, nearly 40 percent of working people don’t use cars to get to their jobs, vs. less than 25 percent in the rest of the city. And here, out of every 1,000 juveniles, an average of 124 were arrested in 2001, vs. 95 in the rest of the city; the rate of juvenile arrests in these neighborhoods jumped to 142 per 1,000 juveniles in 2002. The list of disparities is long and poignant.

If, as his 1999 campaign materials noted, New York City was O’Malley’s model for success, then Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods would benefit most from his policies, as happened during New York’s renaissance in the 1990s. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s approach–while widely vilified, largely because of the man’s brusque personality and a few horrific incidents involving his police force–was to commit resources where they were most needed, and thus he helped spur revival in Gotham’s most hard-pressed areas as well as its most prosperous. And, despite opinions to the contrary, Giuliani achieved these gains while reducing the number of police-involved shootings compared to his predecessor. So, has the approach worked in Baltimore under O’Malley’s guiding hand? Yes and no.


There’s just no arguing the gains made in the critical early grades of the Baltimore City public schools during the last five years. Scores in the nationwide TerraNova standardized tests rose dramatically across the board between the 1998-’99 and 2002-’03 school years in the city’s elementary-school grades. And those gains, reflected in a recently released school system report, have been greatest in schools serving the city’s poorest neighborhoods–though the situation is reversed in scores for sixth-graders. The greatest climb in average percentile rankings was in poor areas’ second-grade reading scores, which jumped an average of 23.2 points in the five-year period, while the scores rose 17.1 points for second-graders in the rest of the city’s schools. Sixth-graders scores in the poor schools, though, climbed an average of 9.6 points, compared to 19.6 at all the other city schools.


O’Malley attributes this overall success in part to expanding programs that target kids before they enter first grade. “We have gone from 109 full-day kindergarten classes to 297, reaching that mandate five years ahead of when the state wanted us to,” he cited during a recent interview with City Paper in his City Hall office. “And we’ve gone from one full-day pre-K program to 91.” He also pointed out that the school system’s efforts to standardize course content have helped, too, given that “a lot of kids are in three or four or five different schools in the course of a year, [and are faced] with a different curriculum every time.”

Kids living in poverty, O’Malley observes, have to prevail over more severe obstacles in order to learn well, so the greater improvements in test scores at schools serving poor children are that much more impressive. “The neighborhood environment from which our poor children are drawn have a lot bigger societal problems . . . [such as] violent crime, drug addiction, and the sort of societal abandonment, familial abandonment, that those things fuel, than in other areas of our city,” he said. “Unfortunately, [these students] have to overcome a lot more of the baggage that we as a society still allow to be heaped upon them through no fault of their own.

“So I don’t think it’s accidental that our kids are doing better in school as the city’s becoming safer and as more parents are getting into drug treatment,” he continued. “I think all of this works together. And the expectations for their success I think are greater than maybe they’ve been in years past.”

Of any single area under city government’s bailiwick, though, the school system is the one over which the mayor has the least direct influence. This is the result of a partial state takeover of city schools during Schmoke’s last term–a negotiated outcome to settle a long-litigated lawsuit. Thus, while O’Malley has some say over schools policy by virtue of his control over nine appointments to the 18-member school board and the city’s 23.5 percent contribution to the system’s 2002 budget, he can’t take full credit for its success or failure. Nonetheless, his limited clout in the schools arena means he can tout–with a measure of modesty–the remarkable rise in test scores as part of his record as mayor.


By and large, the city’s poorest neighborhoods fall in two of the city’s nine police districts, the Eastern and the Western. Examining the crime numbers in these two districts in 1999 and 2002, vs. the other seven districts, turns up mixed results. According to police department data, overall violent crime in the Eastern and Western districts combined has dropped 31 percent from 1999 to 2002, while nonfatal shootings have dropped almost 38 percent. But murders rose nearly 15 percent in 2002 compared to 1999–and the two districts’ share of the city’s total number of homicides has increased from nearly 30 percent in 1999 to more than 41 percent in 2002.

Running the same analysis on 2003’s year-to-date figures in the Eastern and Western districts as of Aug. 9, vs. 1999’s numbers on the same date, show that the disparity is even greater this year. Murders are up 50 percent from 1999, while violent crime has dropped more than 42 percent and shootings more than 18 percent. According to the police department’s own statistics, the Eastern and Western districts have become less violent but far more deadly.


“I had never seen these murder numbers broken down like this before,” O’Malley commented while reviewing these statistics. “It’s an interesting way to break them down.” But his response was to repeat Giuliani’s mantra: “We apply our resources to where the problems are.” And then he opened his crime-numbers notebook and recited figures showing that violent crime is down dramatically in every district, including the Eastern and Western.

“You know,” he added, “all of this is a work in progress. I’m not happy with 253.” That’s the number of murders committed citywide in 2002–a far cry from the 175 he had promised by that date during the 1999 campaign and during the first two years of his administration. “We’re going to continue to go down from there.”


And the mayor got exercised over projections of this year’s final murder tally, which as of press time is on track to reach about 285 by the end of December. “Everybody always wants to project that year-end number,” he said with palpable disgust. “I mean, they want to do it in July. And a half a year’s left. And it is awful and it’s morbid and it’s cold to talk statistics. One homicide is one homicide too many.

“But we deploy our resources to where the problems are,” O’Malley continued, getting back to the disproportionate violence in the Eastern and Western districts. “And all of this, it is still young. The open-air drug trade in this city was allowed to grow and flourish and develop and become as acute as it did over a 25-year slide. And so we are going to continue to hammer it.”

Another area that O’Malley has targeted is police corruption. It’s a ticklish subject, and one on which he mounted his bully pulpit starting in 1993, when he was a young councilman. “The few bad apples are just that–the few,” he said in an impassioned speech on the council floor 10 years ago. “But there is not a single knowledgeable person in federal, state, or local law enforcement today who will deny that we have a growing problem with street-level corruption.”

During the 1999 campaign, O’Malley repeatedly stressed the importance of “policing the police,” and continued to fuel the perception that the corruption problem in the department was acute. And he asserted that the problem had been swept under the rug for years. After he was elected, he hired a consulting firm, the Maple/Linder Group of New York City, to do a full assessment of the police department, including an internal survey of sworn officers. The findings on corruption were eye-popping. “While 48.7 percent of respondents believe that five percent or less of . . . officers are stealing money or drugs from drug dealers,” the report reads, “23.2 percent believe the number is greater than a quarter of the department.” Based on the buzz O’Malley sounded, many in Baltimore expected to see heads starting to roll.

It never really happened. There was one infamous case–Agent Brian Sewell, who was accused of planting drugs on an innocent suspect as a result of a sting operation. But the case tanked when the alleged evidence against him was pilfered by the lead investigator in the case from a secret internal-investigations office in Essex around Christmas 2000. (The department used its administrative procedures to fire Sewell. He appealed successfully, winning the right to a new trial-board hearing, but agreed to leave the force rather than go through another proceeding. Sewell recently died in an accident at Andrews Air force Base, where he had been assigned for duty with the Maryland National Guard.)

Other than Sewell, police department spokesman Matt Jablow says only three other officers–Jacqueline Folio, Scott Fullwood, and an unnamed member of the force–failed the 217 drug-related integrity stings staged by the department’s Internal Affairs Division since the beginning of 2000. The unnamed officer, Jablow explained, “struck a deal” and retired, so the department is unwilling to reveal his name.

“We’ve been doing 100 integrity stings a year for the last few years,” O’Malley explained, somewhat apologetically. “Some of them are targeted, a lot of them are random. Like everything else we do in this department, there is plenty of room for improvement as far as how we police our police. We’re doing more of it than we ever have. We have not come across that sort of beehive’s nest of every officer on a shift in a particular precinct [involved in corruption], like they had in New York, where they had a couple of celebrated cases. But [police Commissioner Kevin] Clark believes that we can do those targeted stings even more effectively than we have done them in the past.

“You don’t start a new effort like that and have it perfect overnight,” he continued. “And obviously from some of the problems that we had in some of those prosecutions [e.g., the Sewell case], it was pretty apparent that this was something new for us. But I had been somewhat surprised not to find more of that, given the way the drug trade took over big swaths of the city. But we’ll continue to be on the lookout for it and to improve the effectiveness of the investigations.”


In 1999, as O’Malley was running for mayor on an anti-crime platform, critics sometimes complained that he was a one-trick pony. Even his economic development ideas were built on crime-fighting. When asked during an interview that summer what the government’s role is in creating jobs and improving the business climate, for instance, he responded that “you do both of those things by first accomplishing job one of any organized government, which is public safety. I think there is no way to create jobs or to improve the business environment if the only businesses expanding are these open-air drug markets.”

But there was more to his plan than boosting law-enforcement. It also involved “having a mayor more actively involved with our lending institutions and letting them know where opportunities exist in this city,” he continued, “where they can make a dollar and where they can help build this city again. Businesses, their knock on city government isn’t a whole helluva lot different than citizens. Nobody returns their phone calls and nobody listens. So that’s what it’s all about.”

Today, O’Malley likes to talk about the $1.6 billion in new construction that he says is underway in Baltimore. Apparently, by that measure, his one-two punch of crime-fighting and massaging the investing class has worked pretty well. While unemployment remains high–the June figure for the city was 8.8 percent, compared to 5.2 percent for the metro region and 4.3 percent for Maryland overall–that’s largely out of his control, given the national economic recession that took hold in 2000, just as he was getting traction as the new mayor.

“We haven’t taken as severe a hit to our overall job base [during this recession] as other cities,” says Anirban Basu, an economist who heads the Fells Point-based consulting firm Optimal Solutions. “And that’s a radical departure from the recession of the early 1990s, when Baltimore was a laggard in recovering compared to other cities, which tended to come out strong during the rest of the decade. A lot of people expected a repeat performance this time, and that never materialized.” Basu attributes that in part to the wealth in the region, which means more businesses and individuals qualify to take advantage of the historically low interest rates on bank loans: “That’s why we have had such a terrific housing market in Baltimore City, which has the cheapest housing stock in the region, so it is likely people are going to look there first for deals. And many would-be renters have been empowered to buy homes.”

Baltimore’s relative prosperity amid a recession is hard to attribute directly to O’Malley’s efforts. But his efforts have certainly helped. While several formal economic-development strategies have been conceived during O’Malley’s four years in office, two were much ballyhooed early on. First, and the one that was promised often during his 1999 campaign, was to leverage the power of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), the federal law requiring banks to make loans in poorer neighborhoods from which they draw depositors. And the second, adopted after he gained office, was to grow the local technology industry in a drive that was dubbed “The Digital Harbor.”

It’s hard to quantify how effectively O’Malley has wielded the CRA to bring new investment to Baltimore. But the extent to which he’s succeeded at all is an achievement, because the CRA has become an increasingly impotent tool in recent years. The main trend that has weakened the CRA is the fact that national mortgage-lending companies have increasingly become the lender of choice for many homebuyers and for those refinancing their mortgages. Such companies generally do not have local branches where consumers make deposits, and thus are not subject to the CRA’s provisions.

So, while O’Malley talked a big CRA game during the 1999 campaign–saying, for instance, that he would use “that hammer of monitoring the banks and the threat that you’ll mess up their business and their ability to merge and do what banks like to do in this era”–his tone has been much more conciliatory toward the banks since he took office. “A lot more of our banks were more savvy [on the CRA front] than we had anticipated,” he explained recently.

Despite the CRA’s increasingly limited reach, several local banks that do take deposits from Baltimore have outstanding CRA ratings, and they’ve stepped up to the plate with sizable CRA-eligible loans for local development efforts. Most impressive has been the Bank of America, which, by O’Malley’s tally, has financed or invested in ongoing local projects to the tune of approximately $170 million.

And O’Malley can take credit for getting banks to help underwrite the efforts of the Community Development Finance Corp., a quasi-public lending institution that makes risky loans for redevelopment in low-income areas and that was riddled with scandal under Schmoke. “Quite frankly,” he explained, “many of [the banks] were very reluctant to do it unless we put better checks and balances in place to safeguard the value of their loans. But I had several one-on-one meetings with them and lots of phone calls, lots of lobbying, begging, arm-twisting. We changed the rules at CDFC in terms of giving the banks some greater voice in the loans that we make and some greater oversight. But we got the banks to re-up, and that was to the tune of $26 million that they put into the CDFC.”

In the heady early days of his administration, Digital Harbor quickly became the most heralded piece of O’Malley’s economic-development package. “Our working waterfront,” O’Malley proclaimed in an early-2000 speech before a large gathering of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, a national group that promotes results-oriented governance, “once again has become our port to a new economy with dozens of Digital Harbor companies filling revitalized space formerly occupied by manufacturing and warehouse equipment. We have made recruiting, supporting, and growing tech companies our highest economic-development priority because the Digital Harbor is Baltimore’s future.”

Digital Harbor was just getting up and running in 2000 when the tech-industry bubble burst. While little positive news has been heard about it since the tech collapse, local tech-industry leaders remain upbeat. “Baltimore City has done extraordinarily well” given the industry’s downturn, says Penny Lewandowski, who directs the Greater Baltimore Technology Council, a trade group based in the American Can Company complex in Canton. “I can name only three companies that did not survive–Cycle Shark, Gr8, and Tide Point LLC.” Her rosy take has required a slight shift in perspective. “Digital Harbor,” she explains, “is not just about companies that are exclusively technology, but how technology affects traditional businesses as well. So, did the mayor make the right bet? Absolutely.”

Basu gives a less optimistic appraisal of the tech industry’s status in the city today, but he backs Lewandowski’s basic conclusions. “The collapse hasn’t been quite the bloodbath it’s been nationally,” he says, pointing out that the large infusion of federal research dollars into the local economy and regional tech industry’s reliance on those federal contracts have helped. “Federal-government contracts account for about 40 percent of the state’s tech-industry revenues, versus about 10 percent in Silicon Valley.”

The main reason for tech’s resilience in Baltimore in the face of a national downturn, Basu says, is that Baltimore had less to lose than other cities. “Baltimore has not been a hotbed of private-sector technology in much of its history,” he explains. “It was late in coming to the table–and then, just as the momentum was building, the tech industry goes bust.”

O’Malley’s focus in the tech arena also has shifted since the tech collapse–from information technology and telecommunications, which were the hardest hit areas, to biotechnology, which is a less mercurial beast. “What we are trying to do,” he explained, “is to create the expectation that in our already fairly diverse economy, that we are ready and have the natural resources–the colleges and universities and research institutions–to be able to grow that sector of the economy which could be called the new economy. And I think our area, where we have greater strengths than others, is going to be in biotech.” To that end, the city is soon to become home to two biotechnology parks–one on the east side and affiliated with Johns Hopkins University; the other on the west side, being developed by the University of Maryland.

City government’s role in all of this is not so much “the bricks-and-mortar visibility,” O’Malley said, but work-force development–investing in programs that will prepare city residents to participate in the new economy. And he’s more than happy, along with his technology coordinator, Mario Armstrong, to recite a list of new initiatives. First and foremost, O’Malley and Armstrong explain, is the radical gain in the ratio of students to computers in the classroom. “We used to be at 10 to 1, now we’re at three-and-a-half to one,” Armstrong said enthusiastically. “That was us making it a priority,” O’Malley continues, “Carmen [Russo, the outgoing city schools chief] not fighting us on being involved in it, a million dollars of general funds, and 6,000 computers from the Social Security Administration, which we paid to have retrofitted.”

Armstrong’s list of other programs and accomplishments is long and sounds impressive. The Hewlett-Packard Digital Village program aims to train teachers to use computers and incorporate them into class curriculum so students learn in a tech-savvy environment. Digital Village Hubs, which are after-school centers that provide public access to computers, have been established at three locations on the east side. Many of the city’s public-housing projects now have computer centers, and about 1,200 people a month are using them. Five computer-oriented Youth Opportunity Centers have been opened around the city, giving children more occasions to use computers after school. And three Digital Learning Labs have opened, which provide computer-training courses that, in June, taught almost 500 people how to use the technology.

Whether all of this activity actually results in a more job-ready work force for the city’s still-fledgling new economy is the question. As Basu says of the city’s work force-development initiatives, “it will be interesting to see how well it works, but it’s good to see they’re trying.”

It’s less clear that the O’malley administration has been trying on another front where he promised progress when he first ran for mayor: maximizing budget efficiency by reducing the amount of money granted to contractors for “extra work” on city contracts. “I think there are areas where we spend too much [city] money,” he said during a campaign interview four years ago. “One of those is in the letting of public-works contracts through the Board of Estimates. I think that the additional work orders and the inflation on those contracts really needs to be checked.”

Just to be clear, we’ll call what O’Malley was talking about “contract add-ons.” They are routinely passed by the city’s five-member Board of Estimates, which approves much of the city’s spending on a weekly basis and which is controlled by O’Malley by virtue of his seat on the board, plus two mayoral appointees. When the board approves a contract add-on, they are granting city contractors payments in addition to the amount of the original contract. The payments were the subject of occasional controversy during Schmoke’s tenure at City Hall, based on suspicions that some such payments were unnecessary and wasteful. After O’Malley came into office, City Councilman Nicholas D’Adamo Jr. in 2000 announced that, based on numbers he had obtained, the city had spent $99 million on such additional work in the previous five years–though he never completed his promised report on the problem.

Board of Estimates records of two three-year periods of city spending–1994-’96 under Schmoke, and 2000-’02 under O’Malley–reveal a mixed bag of progress on this front. While the board has granted fewer add-ons under O’Malley than they did under Schmoke and has reduced the number of contracts receiving additional work, the amounts granted have grown–especially when measured as a share of the total value of city contracts receiving additional payments. While the city spent $24.2 million on add-ons during the three-year period under Schmoke, it spent $27.4 million on such additional payments under O’Malley–and the add-ons’ share of the total value of contracts rose from 3.3 percent to 6.5 percent.


The mayor’s office provided alternative figures to City Paper, but they don’t square with the records of the Board of Estimates, which were the basis for City Paper‘s analysis and which are the only source available for the public to independently research city spending patterns. Raquel Guillory, the mayor’s chief spokeswoman, told City Paper the total value of contracts from 1994 through ’96 was $323,649,981, with add-ons comprising 8.4 percent of that total, while the figures for 2000 through ’02 were $379,340,369 and 7.2 percent, respectively. Thus, the O’Malley administration’s numbers show efficiency–add-ons as a percentage of total contract amounts–has increased under O’Malley, while City Paper shows greatly increased inefficiency under O’Malley.

City Paper asked Guillory to explain how city government arrived at their figures. She said that the city’s numbers were derived from the sum total of construction contracts that came before the Board of Estimates for contract add-ons. City Paper based its figures on the sum total of all city contracts–including everything from waste-water treatment improvements to consulting work to digital mapping of the city.

Guillory also explains that two projects worked on under the O’Malley administration–extensive and glitch-riddled contracts on the police headquarters building and Hopkins Plaza downtown–were held over from the Schmoke administration and made up for a large amount of the extra work passed by the Board of Estimates during O’Malley’s term. Also, O’Malley adds, city managers have “been trying to do a better job in terms of the degree of detail that’s in the contracts to begin with, when they go out for bid,” explaining that “if we put out better contracts, we might get the job done for less, without these expensive overages.” So far, the Board of Estimate records don’t reflect the improvements O’Malley suggested have had a money-saving effect, because both the amount and the share of additional work have risen markedly compared to the Schmoke administration in the mid-1990s.


In the heady days after winning the 1999 primary, O’Malley sat down with a reporter to discuss his victory. One of the many interesting facets of the story was the demise of the once-famous friendship between O’Malley and his longtime partner in politics, Lawrence Bell, whom he trounced at the ballot boxes. Bell, O’Malley believed, had messed up his electoral fortunes with a variety of missteps, but primarily by ditching his long-established political persona as an independent rebel and choosing instead to align himself with the established political forces behind Schmoke.

“I said,” O’Malley recalled in 1999, “‘Even if you are lucky enough to stumble into this thing backwards, you are not going to be able to usher in the sort of change the city needs by relying on the old warhorses. It won’t be possible.’ I said, ‘How you win also dictates how you are able to govern.’ I said, ‘If you win this way, you won’t be able to govern.'”

O’Malley’s 1999 mayoral campaign, in contrast to Bell’s, was marked by efficient fund-raising and spending, a hard-working and diverse cadre of workers, a focus on a few key issues, backing from a panoply of state leaders, and support from an energized public. Like Bell, though, he relied on old warhorses–even older than Bell’s. Not Schmoke’s people (though many of them have since come into the O’Malley fold), but those of his father-in-law, state Attorney General Joseph Curran Jr., and those of State Comptroller (and former mayor and governor) William Donald Schaefer, whose long-loyal cronies turned up in thick numbers in O’Malley’s 1999 campaign and have been well represented in O’Malley’s brain trust. Among them are lawyer-advisor Richard Berndt and former deputy mayor Laurie Schwartz, who left O’Malley’s cabinet last winter after serving since he was elected.

If O’Malley’s advice to Bell was accurate–that “how you win also dictates how you are able to govern”–then O’Malley’s admirably well-run 1999 campaign would lead to overall good governance with fundamental reform limited by his reliance on “old warhorses.” Either way, O’Malley now sums up his first four years in office with the half-apologetic campaign slogan “Because Better Isn’t Good Enough.” And now it’s up to the voters to decide whether–given his record of improved school-test scores, more deadly violence in poor neighborhoods, limited success fighting police corruption, greater private investment and work-force development efforts, and inefficient city contracts–better was in fact good enough. We’ll find out when the votes are tallied.

Mobtown Confidential: Thirty Years After His Mysterious Disappearance, Gentleman Racketeer and Block Kingpin Julius “The Lord” Salsbury Still Haunts Baltimore

By Van Smith

Published in Baltimore magazine, April 2000


“Little Melvin” Williams is shouting through a thick sheet of Plexiglas at the Prince George’s County Detention Center. The burly owner of the recently defunct Scrapp Bail Bonds is awaiting sentencing on a federal conviction for possessing a handgun while on parole for earlier federal crimes related to his career as a major heroin trafficker. Williams has spent 22 of his 58 years in jail; he claims, among other things, to be an accomplished chess player, a martial arts expert, and a speaker of five languages. What he isn’t, he says, is a snitch.

“Mr. Levinson has made a devastating mistake!” he exclaims. “I’m known as ‘Iron Jaws’!”

The source of Little Melvin’s indignation is Liberty Heights, filmmaker Barry Levinson’s latest nostalgic ode to Baltimore. In the film, released last fall, an amiable, soft-spoken racketeer named Nate Kurtzman (Joe Mantegna) juggles his family life, his illegal gambling operation, and his burlesque business on the Block in the 1950s. His downfall comes via a gambling payoff owed to a villainous dope peddler named Little Melvin (Orlando Jones), who first kidnaps Kurtzman’s son and then rats on a bookie. Kurtzman is targeted for prosecution by the Feds and arrested on Rosh Hashanah at a Cadillac dealership. “You know,” Nate says to his lawyer, “over the years in my business, you watch enough shows, you learn. A good performer knows when to get off the stage.” Nate quits the game and gets eight-to-10 years in the Big House.

The movie is fiction, of course, but the real-life Little Melvin knows that the shuckin’, jivin’, bug-eyed bungler in the movie is supposed to be him. And anyone who remembers the Baltimore of a few generations ago can tell that the doomed gentleman racketeer is drawn from the man Williams says once “called me his godson” – Julius “The Lord” Salsbury.

Salsbury, like Levinson’s Kurtzman, was a Block kingpin who was hunted down by the Feds. Unlike his fictional alter ego, though, Salsbury was never caught. After appealing a gambling conviction, he jumped bail and fled the country in 1970, eluding capture ever since. Legend has it that he went to Israel to enjoy the protections afforded Jewish-American criminals under the 1965 U.S.-Israeli extradition treaty. The grapevine says Salsbury died a few years ago, probably in 1995; if he were still alive, he would be 84 years old.

But the Lord never really left town; in his long absence, Salsbury’s legend took on a life of its own. Novelists and filmmakers have mined his tale for material; journalists have told and retold what is known of his tenure as Lord of the Block and entertained speculative reports of Salsbury sightings. In the process, Julius Salsbury became Mobtown’s outlaw hero.

The Salsbury myth holds the Lord up as the benevolent peacekeeping patriarch of the Block-based numbers rackets, an honorable man in a rogue industry that – like the East Baltimore Street nightclub district itself during its fondly remembered heyday – was tinged with menace but basically harmless. The nostalgia-driven take on Salsbury  and the Block during its salad days remains common among Baltimoreans. History – at least the popular version of it – has been good to the Lord.

Little Melvin Williams knows all about that, because right now it is being less kind to him: When he’s sentenced in March, Williams will get almost 22 years without parole. He’s locked up, probably for the rest of his life, and cast as the villain in the latest retelling of his fugitive godfather’s story. And the Lord, as always, has escaped without a scratch.


Born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1915, Julius Salsbury was 12 years old when his parents, Isadore and Sarah, moved the family up the Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore and opened a lunch counter on Pratt Street downtown. At 16, Julius dropped out of Edgar Allan Poe school on West Fayette to start earning a living full-time. His first vocation – cab driver – began by the time he was 18. By 21, he already lived on the Block and was getting initiated in the rackets.

Salsbury’s education as a gambler was interrupted by World War II. His draft number was picked soon after Pearl Harbor, and he served as a military policeman in Europe. But before the war ended, he accompanied a prisoner back stateside and went AWOL. Salsbury was caught and did six months of hard labor. When he returned to Baltimore in 1945, he was a 29-year-old veteran with a dishonorable discharge and nothing much to do.

In short order, Salsbury was back in the bookmaking business. In between day jobs lending his father a hand re-treading tires, bottling soda, and running a bar, he began to build up a gambling network. He eloped to Miami with Susan Clara Wellman, a young waitress who had moved to Baltimore from Pennsylvania, because his parents didn’t approve of him marrying a gentile. And he took his lumps in the profession – a bookmaking conviction in 1948 was followed by another in 1950. But the battle scars from his run-ins with the law readied him for bigger and better things.

By the early 1950s, the lowdown on the Block was attracting out-of-town press. In Washington Confidential, the bestselling pulp expose from 1951, Baltimore’s red-light strip was described as “one of the most vicious and lawless areas in the world” by muckraking authors Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer. “At this writing,” they concluded, “any and all forms of vice are tolerated and protected. There is a price for everything and it’s not much.”

That same year, the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime sent its investigators to root out the Baltimore underworld. Long-established racketeers cooled their heels to avoid trouble from the out-of-town heat. And into the vacuum rose the Lord.

The nickname came serendipitously. At a wrestling match at Carlin Park one night, a grappler called “Lord Salsbury” entered the ring; Julius Salsbury and his cohort, who were there to watch the fights, adopted the moniker on the spot.

It fit like a glove. Salsbury’s demeanor was soft-spoken, aristocratic, and confident – a good match with his distinctive, sharp-featured countenance.

His gambling organization, however, suffered its early setbacks. In 1952, Anne Arundel County police raided his Glen Burnie bunker in a case that Salsbury took to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost; he got six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. In 1954, he was nabbed for keeping a disorderly house and putting on an indecent show at Kay’s Cabaret, the Block bar he managed at the time. And in 1955, the Feds fined him $2,000 for failing to buy a required $50 gambling stamp.

But once Salsbury gained title to the Oasis Nite Club in 1956, he troubles with the law eased. Located at East Baltimore and Frederick streets, the club provided Salsbury with a way to wash his gambling proceeds. It also served as a home base from which to run a burgeoning empire. He bought a nice house in Cheswolde in Northwest Baltimore for his wife and three daughters. A fancy car and yacht rounded out the life of the late-1950s racketeer.

As a gambling kingpin and a Block bigwig, Salsbury was well-connected not only in the criminal world, but also with politicians and lawmen. The Lord operated in a carefully guarded region of society where criminal, political, and law-enforcement interests interweave – an area where corruption and cover-up put down deep and hidden roots.

People who worked for Salsbury remember politicians partying with Oasis girls on Salsbury’s boat. He was close friends with Baltimore political boss Jack Pollack. Pollack’s son, Morton, a lawyer and erstwhile Block habitué, says that “a lot of politicians, judges, and commissioners would go down to the Oasis at night.”

Retired Baltimore police lieutenant George Andrew, who headed the vice squad on the Block during the 1960s, suspected that Salsbury had high-up friends in the police department. “He really had somebody tied up,” Andrew recalls. “He knew somebody, but I don’t know who. But if I went on the Block, nobody would be there when I hit it. I wish I’d known – I’d have sent somebody to jail.”

Even Salsbury’s staunchest detractors admit that the man was a civilized racketeer. He shunned violence as an inducement for debt repayment; rather, he punished debtors by not allowing them to bet again until the account was settled. He was known as a generous philanthropist. And he didn’t hold grudges. When a drugstore owner on the Block was compelled to testify against Salsbury, the Lord stayed friendly with him and continued to eat at his lunch counter throughout the trial, just as he had done regularly for years.

But the image of the Lord as charitable rogue was marred by the reality of life on the Block during his ostensibly nonviolent rule: Murder, strong-arming, kidnapping, and intimidation were regular tactics of the Baltimore underworld in that era. In 1961, a troubling crime spree spurred a grand-jury probe of Block rackets, and the probe in turn set in motion the forces that would eventually bring down the Lord.

The trouble started in October of 1960, when Block restaurant manager Frank Corbi was shot at outside his house. The following May, his nephew Ed was ambushed by three masked gunmen; his bodyguard, Earl Fifer, was abducted and held for six days. In June, a Miami Club waitress was found murdered in a stream near Bowley’s Lane after being questioned by police investigating rackets on the Block; a car salesman named Edward Castranda was shot dead as he sat in his car outside the Dixie Diner in July. The three men arrested – brothers Orlando and Angelo Perrera and Benjamin “Hittie” Wildstein – were all major players on the Block and, as Morton Pollack recalls today, friends of Salsbury.

By September, eight Block club owners – including Salsbury – were indicted for various offenses involving the operation of their establishments. A fearful suspect in a numbers-writing case told the judge, “I can’t help you catch the big wheels. These syndicate people would do away with you.” Maryland’s U.S. Attorney, Joseph Tydings, announced that gambling profits were so great that racketeers nationwide spent an estimated $4 billion annually to bribe law-enforcement officers and sports figures. “Organized rackets are disciplined and able to rid themselves of people they no longer want in very efficient ways,” Tydings said.

In November 1961, Salsbury’s case came up for trial: He was charged in city court for pandering and maintaining a disorderly house. The judge and a state witness both reported receiving threats and received police protection. The witness, an Oasis dancer, testified that Salsbury once beat her up when she asked for a loan and that she and her children were told their lives wouldn’t be worth a “plugged nickel” if she took the stand. Still other witnesses were roughed up, left town, or changed their testimony. During a trial recess, a state’s witness in the custody of police was taken out drinking at the Oasis. Three police officers who patrolled the Block testified at trial that they’d never seen any problems at Salsbury’s club. Ultimately, after a retrial, Salsbury won acquittal. The Lord had slipped off the hook again.

In June 1962, the U.S. Senate had taken testimony about organized crime based on the Block as part of its investigation into corruption in the showgirls’ union. Salsbury – already fingered by the U.S. Attorney General as one of the nation’s top racketeers – was called to testify before the Senate committee, but under questioning asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Based on the information about the Block gathered during the hearings, Senator Karl Mundt of South Dakota dubbed Baltimore one of the nation’s “great metropolitan fleshpots” and said its citizens have “the kind of city they want … the kind of city they deserve.”


After Salsbury’s photo was on the front page of the newspapers during the 1962 Senate hearings, he was fixed in the public imagination – and in the sights of federal law-enforcement – as an organized criminal of national proportions. From that point on, his fortunes started to change. The year 1963 brought Salsbury a federal conviction for tax evasion, for which he served eight months in federal prison. In 1965, $745,000 in tax liens were filed against him by the IRS. And from 1963 to 1965, the FBI bugged the Oasis (illegally, it was later revealed) and picked up all sorts of nefarious activities: graft among city police and vice detectives and bribes to IRS agents, according to Paul Kramer, who as an assistant U.S. attorney later prosecuted Salsbury.

“There were people coming in and out of his office and getting picked up on the wiretap – payoffs taking place in his office, exchanges of information, and the women back there with them,” Kramer recalls today as he sits in his memento-crammed office. He now runs a criminal-defense practice. “It did show the corruption that was associated with this kind of behavior. I assume it’s probably worse today, with all the narcotics money involved, than we had with gambling.”

Kramer was in zealous pursuit of Salsbury for much of the 1960s. As one of Salsbury’s defense attorneys, Arnold Weiner – himself a former federal prosecutor – recalls, Kramer “was Captain Ahab and Julius was his white whale.”

Success didn’t come easily. After a 1968 raid on the Oasis, Kramer charged Salsbury with failing to purchase a required $50 wagering-tax stamp; hours later, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law on which the case was based. Kramer came back at him in 1969 with a new harpoon – the Travel Act, which prohibits interstate transport of ill-gotten gains. That one connected: Salsbury was convicted and slapped with a 15-year sentence.

“For a guy who got convicted as a nonviolent gambler,” Kramer asserts, “the judge really threw the book at him.” The main rationale for the severity of the sentence Salsbury received, Kramer explains, was the public corruption bred by the Lord’s activities. “What made it was the amount of corruption that was associated with him: law-enforcement corruption, whether it’s the liquor board or federal agents or police officers. He even asked me if I could be corrupted, which I took as flattery.”

Salsbury appealed the conviction and – despite strident warnings by Kramer that the Lord would slip away – was allowed to remain free on bail pending the outcome. Days before the appellate court upheld the conviction, Salsbury fled. Given the high level of corruption surrounding the Lord, suspicions abounded that he had some high-powered help in making his escape.

“Where was the leak in the U.S. Court of Appeals when the decision came down?” asks E. Thomas Maxwell, a former assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore who prosecuted Salsbury in 1961. His raised eyebrows concerning the circumstances of Salsbury’s disappearance are common among afficionados of the Lord. Maxwell speculates that, if Salsbury had not fled and instead been imprisoned, information the racketeer had about public corruption could have erupted in scandal.

Kramer, however, says the question of whether someone leaked word of the appellate court’s decision in order to give Salsbury the opportunity to run is settled. “A lot of people thought that,” Kramer recalls. “There was an investigation and we determined that we do not believe that there is any evidence showing that there was any kind of leak out of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.” Instead, Kramer believes Salsbury “was just playing the odds” on when and how the appeal would come down and fled town just in time.

The Lord took with him everything he knew about criminally culpable public officials, and in his wake he left a red-faced federal law-enforcement community. “The government was just embarrassed for many, many years” after the escape, says Maxwell. George Beall, who was U.S. Attorney for Maryland when Salsbury escaped, agrees. “It was an embarrassment to the FBI, to the government, that he was gone,” he explains. “They turned themselves inside out to try to solve the mystery.”

According to Kramer, Salsbury left his Horizon House apartment on Calvert Street and “went directly to Canada. We later determined that there was a safe deposit box in Canada. We finally got the search warrant for it and found it empty. The best we could determine was that he took a gambling junket to England, probably under an assumed name, and later we could prove he was in South Africa. Money was being funneled [to Salsbury] through Germany, we believe, from businesses being sold in Maryland.”

Besides the government, the other big loser when Salsbury fled was his friend and gambling colleague, the bail bondsman Robert “Fifi” London, who had posted a total of $80,000 bail that had to be forfeited, according to Morton Pollack. “I know for a fact that he was paid back” on Salsbury’s behalf by a third party, Pollack says. Fifi London died in the 1970s after a lengthy prison term for tax evasion, but his bailbonds firm lives on. In fact, Melvin Williams’ Scrapp Bail Bonds was (until it tanked due to Williams’ recent legal troubles) a subagency of London Bonding Agency.

Homicide author David Simon investigated the Salsbury case as a Sun reporter in the 1980s and early 1990s and concluded that the Lord ended up in Israel, living in a townhouse in Tel Aviv. Melvin Williams is full of insinuations that he had been in communication with Salsbury since his flight, has information about the Lord’s whereabouts over the years, and knows the truth about the man’s mysterious fugitive years. But, like any good gambler, Little Melvin plays that card close to his vest.


Back in 1969, as the net closed in around Salsbury, Fred Motz served as co-counsel to lead prosecutor Kramer. Now the chief judge of the U.S. District Court of Maryland, Motz was one of the men who helped hunt Salsbury down, and he understands well why the Lord still haunts the Block. “As you get older, you can romanticize,” he says. “It is an overstatement to say that the Salsbury people were sort of like Damon Runyon characters. [But] there’s a certain poignancy to the fact that that is now gone.”

Never mind that the real-life Salsbury helped cement Mobtown’s still-thriving reputation as a hopelessly corrupt and dangerous town. Forget that, during his reign, the Block was wracked with shocking violence, and the widespread public corruption Salsbury instigated to protect his rackets undermined the public trust in honest government. From the perspective of modern Baltimore, the Salsbury era still inspires a certain nostalgia for the days of honorable outlaws and crime that seemed at least to be organized. Maybe, Motz guesses, it’s only because corruption and violence grew so much worse after he left.

“[Salsbury] was really in quite strong control of the Block, and … after he was taken out, rough people came in and there were a lot more murders,” Motz says. “Nobody’s saying that crime is appropriate, but you are going to have crime. There’s almost a sense of longing for [Salsbury’s brand of crime], as opposed to what you see out on the streets today. I think that’s one of the appeals of the Salsbury story. It is something from a different era. And one senses that things are different now than they were then.”


Meet the Neighbors: 2000: My First Mistake–Calling the Cops About the Shady Characters Next Door

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Dec. 23, 2009

At first, in early spring, the business that took over the vacant garage on the alley behind my house seemed like it’d make a good neighbor. Evidently, it required only a blow torch and an air wrench powered via an illegal hook-up off the utility pole. The place hummed: zzzztch-zzzztch, vvvvt-vvvvt, all day long and sometimes into the night. I could see into the garage from my third-floor window, and learned that it worked on cars. With its door yawning open most of the time, it seemed not to have anything to hide.

But soon a fever prompted a series of events that started to change my attitude about the garage. Two o’clock in the morning rolled around and, sleepless blob of warm pus that I was, the ongoing racket boiled me over. One guy was working–zzzztch, vvvvt–and three or four others were playing music and generally having a cussin’ good time. I marched over, ducked under the arm of a guy who tried to block me, and became the textbook definition of the crazy white guy.

They quickly talked me down. The main guy–a giant of a man–was smiling, all mellow, and holding a fat wad of high-denomination cash in his hand, doubled over a finger. “I’m in charge, and I’m telling you right now, if you got a problem, you come to me, and I’ll take care of it.” He introduced himself as Blood, and his sidekick as Red. I went home, thinking, well, that went well.

The cash struck me, though, since I never saw any paying patrons. I put my long-lens camera on a tripod and watched. They were working on nondescript, second-hand cars, installing hidden compartments with electronically activated hydraulic lifts. I started to snap pictures and write down license-plate numbers of cars that frequented the place. I didn’t know what I would do with the information, but I was the homeowner here, and the criminal-renters would have to go.

I drove home in the wee hours one night to find there was no place to park, so I took an illegal space. Blood and Red’s completed inventory had taken over the neighborhood’s once-plentiful parking. I got up to re-park before dawn, and found the inventory–maybe 30 cars in all–was gone. They were doing a brisk business.

One late night in May, the crew was hanging out in front of the garage, smoking blunts and drinking and having a rowdy good time playing craps. The garage door was open, the cars lined up behind them. I called 9-1-1 and gave the operator the address, explaining that they were smoking blunts and gambling in plain view, but the true crime was inside, where they were refitting cars with hidden compartments for delivery of drugs, cash, and probably guns. A passing cop would end up with a major case instead of minor charges. I hung up and went out to my stoop to watch the show.

About a half-hour after the call, a patrol car pulled up to the intersection of the alley, slowed down, turned around, and drove off. That was it.

The next morning, an unmarked police car arrived, and two uniformed cops with portable radios got out and fist-bumped Blood. The three chatted a bit, then the cops got back in their car and drove off.

I realized I couldn’t call the cops on the garage anymore. Though no longer naive, I was very, very scared.

Soon, I contacted the FBI. I met with two agents. I gave them photographs and described what I’d been observing. They tried to persuade me to become a cooperator, to infiltrate the garage, to exploit the friendly terms I’d established with Blood and Red. I went ballistic and profanely refused. They told me that, absent that, it’d be two or three years before they could dismantle the operation.

Meanwhile, Blood and Red menacingly invited me to their Memorial Day cook-out, saying I would be the “guest of honor.” My spacious back yard–once a happy place, with a colorful picnic table and a fire-pit over which many sumptuous meals had been prepared, and where my cats often lounged–became mysteriously and repeatedly bombarded with cinder blocks. For an entire weekend, Blood and Red tried psychological warfare on me, playing one song–“Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown, why is everybody always picking on me”–over and over and over again. Good grief.

I called a retired cop I know, who referred me to a veteran at the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force. The HIDTA guy was enthusiastic, and so was I when he said, “Based on what you’re telling me, we can go in there tomorrow.” Then he asked if I’d shared the information with anyone else. When I told him about the FBI, he said, “You told the frat boys? Well, that’ll probably shut us down.” And it did.

So I called a prosecutor I know, who referred me to a Drug Enforcement Administration guy, who told me they’d maybe get to it on a rainy day someday.

At that point, I wasn’t eating properly, I was hardly sleeping, and I was chain-smoking. I had set up a comfortable chair by the tripod on the third floor, along with an oversized ashtray, a glass, and a bottle of Pikesville rye. I was obsessed with the garage, and it wasn’t healthy.

In July, I told a friend in New York about my nightmare, and he suggested I take over his apartment in August while he and his family vacationed. I did, but on the way out of town, I called the neighborhood association president. “At the next meeting,” I begged, “pass a motion that a letter be sent to zoning enforcement about what’s going on at that garage. I don’t think it’s zoned for what’s going on there.”

When I got back in September, zoning had rousted Blood and Red. The garage was empty again, and the alley had returned to safe, familiar normalcy as a comfortable haven for hand-to-hand drug-dealing and strung-out junkies. I breathed a long sigh of relief.

Dead in the Water: In 1992, the Body of a Baltimore Police Trainee Was Found Floating Off Manhattan, Wrists Tied Together. It Was Ruled a Suicide. But Did Anyone Besides Sean Hinton Want Sean Hinton Dead?

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, May 8, 1996


A 22-year-old Baltimore police trainee, married with three children and living in a public-housing apartment, has a career-shattering week that includes being arrested for drunken-driving and being accused of involvement in police corruption. He disappears after leaving a cryptic good-bye note to his wife.

Ten days later, he turns up dead in New York, floating facedown in the water off the southern tip of Manhattan. No one knows how he got there. His wrists are tied together in front of him. Initial reports filed by New York officials who recovered the body describe head trauma and a possible bullet hole in his cheek, but the autopsy report notes no signs of injury or a struggle. Three weeks later, a New York medical examiner rules the case a suicide by drowning.

The Sean Hinton case is a tantalizing riddle with very few clues. The Baltimore City Police Department (BCPD) recently released Hinton’s personnel file, which includes the results of a questionable-death investigation. BCPD’s Internal Investigations Division (IID) conducted probes and there may have been other Baltimore-based investigations as well, but the results haven’t been released. The New York Police Department (NYPD) won’t comment, saying the case is still under investigation. Hinton’s family wants answers. But a limited number of documents and other pieces of evidence, and the recollections of a few reliable sources, are all they have to go on.

Considering the clues that are available, there are only two plausible explanations for Hinton’s death: suicide or homicide. It is possible to reconstruct, blow by blow, the verifiable events that led the medical examiner to conclude – with some speculation – that it was a suicide. It is also possible to find oversights and misinterpretations – at least one of which bears strongly on the suicide ruling – in the autopsy report.

Autopsy photos show an obvious dent above Hinton’s right temple. Today, the medical examiner says the injury occurred after death. But he did not describe it in his autopsy report three-and-a-half years ago, even though the head trauma was noted when the body was pulled out of the water. This oversight leaves open the question of whether the dent occurred before or after Hinton’s death – a question that is vital to determining whether or not Hinton killed himself.

Judgment calls are a necessary part of a medical examiner’s work; not every death can be explained based only on the physical evidence and the known circumstances. But not all deaths have a possible murder motive, either. Hinton’s did. And the medical examiner didn’t know about it when he ruled on Hinton’s death.

Two nights before Sean Hinton disappeared, his family recalls, he spent about eight hours at home preparing extensive police paperwork. Two days before that, he had made a drug bust with BCPD Officer Stanley Gasque, whose career has been marked by complaints of alleged corruption, according to published news accounts and court records. After the arrest, the suspect filed a complaint with IID alleging that Gasque, Hinton, and another officer burglarized his house. Within a year of this incident, the eight members of the Western District drug-enforcement unit to which Gasque belonged had been reassigned, although no criminal charges were ever filed against them. Hinton’s family now believes that Sean knew something and was planning to report it.

BCPD Lieutenant Robert Stanton, who worked on the Hinton case for the homicide department, says his investigation ended after the suicide ruling, a week after he started. His December 10, 1992 report on the case concludes: “It is obvious that a number of questions concerning this incident will long linger and possibly remain unanswered. The fact that the body is found out of jurisdiction and never viewed by anyone from this agency puts us at a disadvantage from the start.”

Stanton says he “wasn’t made privy to most of” the IID investigations of Hinton’s death and the alleged burglary. “IID is a separate entity,” he explains, adding, “I didn’t find anything that made the connection” between his investigation and theirs. Once the death was ruled a suicide, Stanton’s investigation was closed.

Had the manner of death been listed as “undetermined,” Stanton would have pursued the questionable-death investigation further. Perhaps he would have turned up more clues or discovered the possible murder motive; the case for ruling the death either a suicide or a homicide might have been bolstered. As it is, based on what little information has been made available to them, Hinton’s family is convinced Sean was murdered and the truth covered up.


It is Saturday, October 24, 1992. Hinton returns to his Lafayette Courts apartment after getting his car out of impoundment. The young police trainee is due to graduate from the academy in a few weeks, but his fledgling career is suddenly a shambles.

A drug suspect Hinton helped bust on Tuesday the 20th has filed a complaint alleging that Hinton and two officers burglarized his house after the arrest. The night of Friday the 23rd, Hinton had been arrested on drunken-driving charges. Saturday morning, still in the police lockup, he called his friend, 67-year-old Forrest Lee Moore – the man Hinton called “Granddaddy” – and said he expected to have to beg to remain with the police department. (In fact, three days after Sean disappeared, he was fired for misconduct, according to documents in his personnel file.)

Back at home, Hinton opens a spiral notebook and writes a letter to his wife, which she finds eight days later. “24 Oct 92, 540 pm time written. Francine you have dealt with me 4 years, and you never seemed to believe I really loved you – I do love you. You have Jehovah on your side. I have no one. I need Jehovah but I just can’t seem to reach him. So I guess I’ll see someone. Please take care of our children for me. 1744 hrs. Sean Hinton.”

Then he walks out of the apartment and heads toward Orleans Street, leaving his car behind. About an hour later, he calls home to say he’ll be right back. When he fails to show, his mother, Jean Hinton, consults her caller-ID system and discovers he had called from Pennsylvania Station at 6:48 P.M. Shortly after midnight, the Hintons report Sean missing.

Ten days later, on Tuesday, November 3 – the same day Bill Clinton is elected president – Hinton turns up dead. His body is found floating facedown in the water behind New York’s Batter Park Coast Guard Station, the wrists tied up in front with the drawstring of his jacket. His wallet contains $42.95 and several pieces of identification, including a Fraternal Order of Police membership card.

It is around 10:30 A.M. when the body is taken out of the water. An investigator from the New York Medical Examiner’s Office arrives at the scene. He writes in his report, “Decedent is an app. homicide victim. Hands are bound, and head trauma noted.” Several New York police officers also are present on the dock. One files a report at 10:55, noting the body is a “Poss. homicide, hands tied together with black cord and poss. bullet hole left cheek.” When the body is transported to the medical examiner’s office, it is labeled with a tag that reads HOMICIDE.

Five hours later in Baltimore, Joseph Kleinota, BCPD missing-persons detective, who up until then had no breaks in the Hinton case, reports that he has spoken to New York homicide detective Joseph Burdick. His report documents Burdick as saying that a “preliminary investigation reveals that subject committed suicide. … It appears that the person had tied his own hands.”

Burdick also files a report of the conversation. He writes that Kleinota told him Hinton had left a note and that he “had recently become despondent over an arrest and a dept. Disciplinary hearing he was due to attend regarding this arrest.”

The next day, November 4, New York medical examiner Mark Flomenbaum conducts the autopsy. Given the level of decomposition, he figures Hinton has been dead for several days at least. He notes fluid in Hinton’s chest, abdomen, and lungs, indicating drowning as the cause of death. Examining the bound wrists, he jots on his autopsy work sheet: “Comment: appears to req. great deal of facility to do by self.” He describes “soft metal fragments” lodged in the victim’s windpipe. Other than the effects of decomposition, Flomenbaum notes nothing else remarkable about the body.

After the autopsy, Flomenbaum decides the case is a possible suicide. But he isn’t sure yet, so he files a death certificate stating the cause as drowning and leaving the manner of death open, “pending further studies.” On November 27, convinced after consultation with various New York and Baltimore investigators that Hinton intended to and was capable of tying his own wrists to hinder his ability to swim, Flomenbaum changes his ruling to suicide by drowning.


In a nutshell, that is the story of Sean Hinton’s demise. According to Francine Hinton, the police department expressed its sympathy by covering the funeral costs, paying out insurance money, and outfitting their children – Ronald, Sean, Jr., and Shatia, then one, three, and five years old – with some new clothes.

She isn’t satisfied with the explanation that Sean committed suicide, though. Neither are his mother, sisters, brothers, and friends.

That is to be expected; authorities say family members and friends almost always respond to suicide with disbelief. But Sean Hinton’s case is not like most suicides. First, there is a possible motive for murder.

On October 20, 1992, Hinton was working with Gasque, who had returned several months before to the Western District drug-enforcement unit after being moved to patrol because federal officials suspected he was connected to a drug ring, according to a 1993 Sun article. Why a police trainee was working with this particular officer is unknown, but it is a question the family would very much like to have answered.

After receiving information from a confidential informant, Gasque and Hinton arrested Eric Thomas on drugs and firearms charges in a school zone in West Baltimore. Shortly after the arrest, Thomas complained to IID that Gasque, Hinton, and another, unnamed cop confiscated his keys while booking him and went to his house and stole property, including money. A Baltimore City grand jury heard testimony from several witnesses who said they saw the burglary, but no indictment was handed down. BCPD Lieutenant Stanton explains that one of the witnesses was considered unreliable because of a murder conviction.

The drugs and firearms charges against Thomas were dropped after his attorney subpoenaed records of the investigations of Gasque’s conduct and Hinton’s disappearance and death. On November 5, 1992, Thomas was arrested again, this time on a charge of robbery with a deadly weapon in connection with an October 10, 1992 incident at the Money Service Center on West Baltimore Street. According to sources close to the case, Thomas was arrested at his house by Detective Arnold Adams just as IID detectives were arriving to tell Thomas he had passed the polygraph test he took in connection with his complaint against Gasque and Hinton.

According to court records, the armed-robbery charges against Thomas were dismissed by a Circuit Court judge after prosecutors refused to provide eyewitness’ statements given to Adams on November 3, 1992 (the day Hinton’s body was found), when Thomas was allegedly picked out of a photo array.

(Adams is no longer with the BCPD; his career ended last summer when he was caught collecting rewards for having an accomplice call in crime tips to Metro Crime Stoppers’ anonymous tip line, according to accounts in The Sun.)

In May 1994, Thomas was arrested again on drug-conspiracy charges. This time, the charges stuck and he was sentenced to federal prison. Before the case was moved to federal court, Thomas wrote a letter to Baltimore Circuit Court Judge John Themelis. After naming officers connected to his case whom he believed were under IID investigation, Thomas pleaded: “I pray that your honor sees these views on my behalf before this puzzle goes any further. There are things that the courts and your Honor should know especially [sic] about some Dead Police Officers [emphasis is Thomas’].”

Eric Thomas’ burglary claim is the only known allegation of police misconduct involving Hinton. Gasque, on the other hand, has weathered several investigations, according to a 1993 Sun article by David Simon. In late 1991, federal officials linked Gasque to a telephone pager being used by a member of a drug organization, and suspected he was in regular contact with the group. In 1992 came Thomas’ complaint. In the summer of 1993, after serving a search warrant based on informant information, Gasque refused to produce the informant for an interview with prosecutors, who suspected the informant did not exist.

Federal officials say they suspected that Gasque was protecting the “Strong as Steel” drug organization. According to federal court documents, Strong as Steel – which operated out of West Baltimore from 1991 to 1993 – was known for robbing and torturing members of other drug organization, and using a former police cadet disguised as a police officer in many of its crimes.

The allegations against Gasque and other Western District drug officers led officials in the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office to urge the BCPD to reassign the entire unit, which the police department did in July 1993. After the purge, Gasque served in another plainclothes unit, the Western District’s “flex unit,” which mostly does street-level drug work. Later, he was reassigned as a Western District turnkey, letting booked suspects in and out of lockup.

The fallout from the allegations against Gasque didn’t end with his reassignment, though. Prosecution of westside drug cases suffered as a result of his reputation. Defense attorneys on cases involving Gasque – staring with Eric Thomas’ attorneys – found that prosecutors tended to dismiss cases or make attractive plea offers if the defense subpoenaed records of the investigations into Gasque’s conduct and Hinton’s death.

In all, between August 1993 and May 1994, 14 of 38 Circuit Court defendants in cases involving Gasque and other former Western District drug-enforcement-unit officers saw their charges dropped or placed on the inactive docket, according to a 1994 Sun article.

Two days after the Eric Thomas arrest, Hinton’s family remembers, Sean came home after work and spent about eight hours doing extensive police-related paperwork in the kitchen. They say they never asked what he was working on, out of respect for his professional need for confidentiality. Stanton notes that Hinton could have been writing up field-training reports rather than reporting police corruption, but Hinton’s family says they had never seen him concentrate so extensively on police paperwork at home. They now believe Hinton was preparing to report alleged corruption to the authorities. If so, someone may have had a motive to shut him up.


The autopsy report sets down the anatomical evidence on which the suicide-by-drowning ruling was based. The report describes no injuries to the body whatsoever. In an interview at his office last month, medical examiner Flomenbaum asserted that initial reports of a possible bullet hole in the left cheek and apparent blunt trauma to the head were mistaken. “There was no trauma to his body,” he said adamantly while reviewing the autopsy report.

Looking at the autopsy photos on a slide project, though, Flomenbaum is asked to zoom in on an obvious dent in the right side of Hinton’s forehead, just above the temple. “This is not anything but decompositional changes,” he says. “Any pathologist worth his salt would see that.” The body probably got knocked around a bit while floating in the water or while being retrieved and transported for autopsy, he says.

But the autopsy report did not note this dent. Regarding the postmortem condition of Hinton’s head, the report notes “red discoloration of the face and anterior aspects of the scalp” and “bloating of the lips, eyelids, and tongue.” During the internal examination of the body, the medical examiner reported “the scalp has no contusions … the skull has no fractures … [and] there are no grossly apparent focal lesions.” Thus, if the dent caused internal damage to the head, it wasn’t found during the autopsy.

After looking at the dent in the slide-projector photos, Flomenbaum qualifies his earlier statement. “There was no trauma at autopsy that couldn’t be accounted for by submersion,” he says. But why didn’t the autopsy report note any trauma at all, even that for which there was a postmortem explanation? “We never would describe things like that if it is just denting of soft tissue,” Flomenbaum explains. “Unless there is something that can be confused with something else, we just tend to give a general description.”

There were other apparent omissions in Flomenbaum’s autopsy report that don’t necessarily bear on how Hinton died, but might call into question the report’s thoroughness. Though it mentions “slippage of the skin at the waist, back, wrists, and ankles,” the report doesn’t point out skin slippage on the face, noting only the “red discoloration.” In fact, the face lacks most of its skin. As one former law-enforcement official who viewed the photos says, “This is more than just red discoloration of the face – the skin has slipped right off.”

Flomenbaum agrees that the skin on Hinton’s face “just wasn’t there.” He explains that he didn’t describe skin slippage on the face because the term applies only where you can still see the skin is in the slipped position.” Since the facial skin was mostly gone, he didn’t describe it at all. The report also makes no mention of Hinton’s shirt, although it lists all other clothing he was wearing. (“I must have missed that,” Flomenbaum explains.)

The autopsy report also describes two half-inch-by-half-inch “soft metal fragments (of unidentified origin) in the right main bronchus, just below the carina.” The objects do not appear in the X-rays of Hinton’s chest, which would clearly show them were they actually metal. During the April interview, when Flomenbaum opened a specimen bottle containing samples of Hinton’s tissues, two objects of approximately the same size were included. They appeared to be fragments of a bivalve shell, not soft metal.

“If these were what was in his [windpipe], they must have looked like metal at the time,” Flomenbaum says. He speculates that the solution in which they were stored dissolved the metal away from the surface of the objects.

Finally, Flomenbaum acknowledges that, as a rule, “there is nothing that can prove drowning.” This was confirmed by other medical examiners, who say that drowning cases don’t always display the tell-tale signs of drowning. Flomenbaum explains that he ruled that Hinton drowned because “the body was found in the water and any other anatomical explanation has been excluded.” But his autopsy report overlooks a point some pathologists say bears on the question of drowning – whether there was water in the sinuses.

John Smialek, Maryland’s chief medical examiner, explains that “there are certain indications that are usually present but not always present” in drowning cases, such as “water in the stomach and air passages, especially the sinuses, which confirms the person was breathing in the water.” The Hinton autopsy report notes “blood-colored watery liquid in the chest and in the abdomen” and that “both lungs contain abundant clear fluid,” but the condition of the sinuses is not described.

The gaps in the autopsy report are not unusual. Mistakes happen in medical examiners’ offices, as anywhere else; they are part of the tricky business of examining dead bodies. And in New York, where in 1993 the medical examiner’s office had an average caseload of 5.3 autopsies per week (the National Association of Medical Examiners recommends no more than 3.8 per week), the high volume of work can be expected to cause difficulties.

Due to possible oversights, corpses are sometimes exhumed for second autopsies which can reveal previously overlooked details that help solve mysteries. In a celebrated early-1980s case, for instance, an Illinois coroner missed three skull fractures on the head of a woman named Karla Brown. The fractures were discovered after Brown’s body was exhumed four years later, a step that led to a murder conviction.


In addition to a possible murder motive and the questionable autopsy, the Hinton case is curious because of the manner and cause of his death. Only one or two percent of all suicides are by drowning, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

And there is the larger question of Hinton’s bound wrists. Flomenbaum, looking at slides of Hinton’s wrists, concludes, “This is not somebody trying to immobilize him. It is a simple knot that is possible to do by yourself.” He says reliable sources involved in investigating the case informed him that Hinton could have done it himself. And he dismisses as naivete his comment in his initial autopsy notes that the knot would require a “great deal of facility to do by self.” The autopsy report says the wrists were tied together with a square knot, a knot that seems impossible to use in binding one’s own hands. (This reporter tried several times and could not do it in a way that would adequately bind the wrists.) Perhaps Hinton tied the knot, then twisted his wrists up tight into the knotted drawstring. Either way, if Hinton bound himself it took considerable dexterity and effort.

When Flomenbaum ruled the case a suicide on November 27, 1992, he was not aware of the allegations of corruption surrounding Hinton. The first he heard of them was in March 1996, when a reporter called him to discuss the case. At the time of the ruling, he said during the April interview, all he knew was that Hinton disappeared after being charged with drunken driving and after leaving a note for his wife. “People kill themselves for a lot less than DWIs,” he says.

Flomenbaum describes Hinton’s note as “very weird. … There’s no mention that he’s going to kill himself.” But he says he still believes it “very strongly supports suicide.” And the new information about Hinton’s circumstances at the time he died, Flomenbaum believes, only bolsters his initial ruling.

“It looks like he was probably involved with some big-time, major shit,” Flomenbaum says. “He saw no way out. He probably wanted to do something right, but was so trapped, it seemed [suicide] was his only option.”

Besides, Flomenbaum continues, “if someone did have a motive to kill him, how did they do it? This is not a homicidal drowning. Homicidal drownings are very, very rare.” He’s right; they are even more rare than suicideal drownings. According to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, in 1992 there were only 29 murders by drowning in the country, about one-10th of one percent of the more than 22,000 killings committed that year.

“I think the circumstances of why he disappeared should be investigated,” Flomenbaum concludes, “but the physical evidence of the ruling is compelling for suicide. I don’t have an anatomy of a murder. There was no struggle. He had his wallet on him. Everything we’ve seen is what happens when people are in the water. …

“If I can be convinced in a reasonable way that I was wrong [in ruling it a suicide by drowning], I will change it to a homicide,” Flomenbaum says. “I am more than willing to have my mind changed. But, right now, these are exceptionally good reasons to make it a suicide. There is nothing physical that suggests someone else did this to him.”

Moreover, Flomenbaum sees no reason to change his manner-of-death ruling to “undetermined,” which would reopen the questionable-death investigation. “’Undetermined’ is usually when we have ambiguous findings at autopsy. The more I hear about the circumstances, the less ambiguous [this case] seems.”

Cyril Wecht, a Pittsburgh medical examiner who is nationally known in the field, reviewed Hinton’s autopsy report and judged it a “fairly decent report.” But Wecht also says, “I don’t understand how they call it a suicide. How does this guy go about tying these things and jumping in the water? It just doesn’t make sense.” He says most forensic pathologists would call it a homicide or undetermined, “absent information from homicide investigators that would indicate suicide.

“There is no basis to challenge [drowning as] the cause of death,” Wecht concludes. “But the manner? You have to wonder.”


On the Saturday morning after the drunken-driving arrest, Hinton could have been pondering several options. He could come clean, reporting whatever he might have known about police corruption. He could “turn” – go criminal, that is, and do what federal court documents describe the Strong as Steel organization as having had former police cadet Doncarlos Williams do: Dress up as a cop and rob rival drug dealers. Or he could take his own life.

The suicide scenario is easy enough to imagine from the standpoint of Hinton’s likely emotions. Hinton comes home that Saturday, despondent over his arrest and a possible disgraceful end to his police career. He is the great hope of the Hinton family – about to become a police officer and take his wife and kids out of the projects. But the dream has faded in the course of one extremely bad week. So he leaves a good-bye note for his wife, takes the train to New York, ties himself up, and hurls himself in the river. What raises questions for Hinton’s family are the presence of a possible murder motive, the location of Sean’s death in New York, and physical evidence they believe argues against suicide, most notably the bound wrists.

Going criminal could also have ended up with Hinton’s death, but that scenario doesn’t comport with the portrait his friends and family paint of his character. Hinton was interested in law enforcement since boyhood. He completed the Baltimore police department’s “Officer Friendly Program” and was honored with a Junior Citizen Award by the city. His friends and family say he was exceptionally reliable, loyal, and affable. He didn’t hang around on the corner when he was growing up; rather, he was always running home to be with his family. “He was kind of naïve about the world,” Robert Templeton, a friend of Hinton’s and his manager during a stint working at Pizzeria Uno at the Inner Harbor, recalls. This is not the picture of someone who enters the police department and almost immediately becomes involved in the drug trade.

So, suppose Hinton decided to come clean. That would explain the sudden flurry of off-duty paperwork a couple of days after Thomas’ arrest. The current whereabouts of the documents are not known, but the family believes Hinton must have taken them with him to work the next day. If they were police reports and Hinton turned them over to IID, then at some point he was going to have to testify about the allegations.

Francine remembers Sean saying to her, as they lay on their bed together the Saturday he disappeared, “I’m going to tell the truth. Them cops ain’t nothing but crooks. I’m going to do my time and get out of it.” She did not mention this conversation to Stanton during his investigation in late November 1992, and Stanton doesn’t recall asking the family if Hinton said anything before leaving.

Later that day, the family remembers, Sean took a long shower. He brought the phone into the bathroom with him and asked his brother Kevin, who is in a wheelchair, to get him his notebook and a pen. Kevin asked him if he still was planning to go to their sister Janet’s anniversary party that night, and Sean said yes. Then he got out of the shower, got dressed, and left the apartment, heading toward Orleans Street on foot. The family can’t recall if he said anything else.

Sean’s last call home was made from the train station. His mother, Jean, spoke with him. “When he called from Penn Station, he said he was coming home and that he wanted to talk to Granddaddy [Forrest Lee Moore], and Granddaddy was not home,” she says. Moore and Sean had worked together for a year in the late 1980s at Edenwald nursing home in Towson and had become close companions. They had been out drinking together the night before Hinton disappeared, but Moore says he doesn’t remember Sean saying anything about police corruption.

Hinton’s mysterious note can be interpreted as jibing with the come-clean theory. “I have no one,” he wrote. If was accusing a senior officer of corruption, he indeed would have been nearly alone. The IID detectives and prosecutors would protect him, but he would have few friends on the force. Whatever trouble he faced, it was police-related and he was facing it in virtual solitude.

“I need Jehovah but I just can’t seem to find him. So I guess I’ll see someone,” the note continues. As a corruption complainant ratting on cops, he would have to face the forces he was fingering eventually; perhaps he was pressured into meeting someone to discuss the charges. The pressure would have had to be severe enough to keep him cooperating – perhaps a threat to his family.

And Hinton closes his note with, “Please take care of our children for me.” As a cop-crime suspect coming clean, he figured he’d either be prosecuted, convicted, and do time, or something disastrous would happen to him at the hands of those he had exposed. Either way, he knew he’d be gone long enough that Francine would need to care for the children alone.

So Hinton went to Penn Station. No one knows what happened to him between his call home at 6:48 P.M. that Saturday and when his body was taken out of the water in New York 10 days later. It seems likely he took the train to New York, but he had no ticket stub when he was found. He did not have a credit card, and the family’s and investigators’ accounts differ on how much money Hinton had when he left home. (Francine disputes that he had enough to buy a $59 one-way ticket to New York.)

If the come-clean interpretation of the good-bye note is correct and he did meet with someone connected to corruption allegations, perhaps he was forced to accompany the person or person to New York and was told everything would be fine for everyone if he cooperated.

The killer or killers would have reasoned that, in Baltimore, a drowned 22-year-old city-police trainee would attract a lot of attention and a lot of press – and police here might quickly discern a possible murder motive. If he dies in New York, the case would probably get a lot less notice – and, with a waterlogged body and a wallet full of identification, it might look like a suicide.

The murder scenario continues like this: Arriving in New York, the party – with Hinton still cooperating – disembarks from the train without incident and heads for a desolate stretch of Manhattan waterfront. Hinton is knocked in the temple and falls unconscious without a struggle. The killers bind his wrists to make sure he can’t swim, throw him in the water, and walk away.

The come-clean scenario stand or falls with the question of when the trauma to Hinton’s head occurred. Did it happen before or after he drowned? And while the autopsy report says the skull isn’t fractured, medical examiners have missed skull fractures before.


The question of suicide versus murder would be addressed, if not cleared up, by exhumation and a second autopsy to examine whether Hinton’s head injury occurred before or after death and whether the skull is fractured. “That would cost somebody thousands of dollars and not turn up anything,” Flomenbaum says. It’s a process, though, that the family considered initiating shortly after Hinton’s funeral in November 1992.

According to Mark Zaid, a Washington, D.C., attorney working on the John Wilkes Booth exhumation case currently pending before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, “It is a simple process that can be made complicated if someone wants to make it so.”

First, all immediate family members must agree to request exhumation, then approach the cemetery with their request. If the cemetery agrees, all the family needs is permission from the jurisdiction’s state’s attorney’s office and money to pay for the exhumation and examination. If the cemetery rejects the request – and that doesn’t happen in most cases, according to Zaid – the family can go to court.

Another possibility for obtaining more clues to help solve the Hinton mystery is disclosure of more reports of investigations into the circumstances surrounding his police work and his disappearance and death. The autopsy report, Hinton’s police personnel file, and Stanton’s questionable-death report have been released. As Hinton’s court-appointed representative, Francine also plans to obtain copies of documents subpoenaed (but never released) in the Eric Thomas drugs-and-firearms case: two IID files (one on the alleged Thomas burglary, the other on Hinton’s death), and records of a probe by the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, including grand-jury testimony about the alleged Thomas burglary. She also intends to request all other Hinton-related police information to which her husband would be entitled if he were alive.

In New York, NYPD spokesperson Detective Julio Martinez told CP that “the case is under active investigation” and the report of its questionable-death investigation on Hinton will not be released. “Obviously, this is an unusual case and the chief of detectives is not going to comment on it until all aspects of it are cleared up,” Martinez says. He also declined a request to interview Joseph Burdick, the NYPD homicide detective who was assigned the case back in 1992.

In addition to the evidence reported here, the family’s suspicions of foul play are provoked by disputed facts, street talk, and innuendo-laden coincidences that suggest to them the documented record of Hinton’s disappearance and death is woefully inadequate. Recollections and questions about Sean are part of the Hinton’s daily routine. “There’s not a day that goes by I don’t think about Sean,” his mother Jean says.

Hinton’s friends also wonder about his death. “It’s hard for me to believe it was suicide because Sean wasn’t that type of person,” Forrest Lee Moore says. He believe Sean was more likely to face his career problems and start anew than to kill himself over losing a job, especially since he was so young, so hard-working, and so easy to get along with. “If you met Sean, you would like him right off the bat,” Moore comments. “Everybody liked him.” Robert Templeton, Hinton’s friend and former boss, is more adamant: “The whole thing stinks from beginning to end,” he says.

Hinton’s family and friends continue to believe that many of their questions will eventually be answered. “Sooner or later, it’ll all come out,” Jean Hinton likes to say. But neither she nor the rest like the wait.

“I haven’t had no comfort since Sean’s been dead,” Jean laments. “That prayer didn’t get answered.”