The “Dead Zone” Stirs: Belated renewal slated for West Baltimore Street

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, March 11, 1998

For generations the 800-1000 blocks of West Baltimore Street in Poppleton have been a thorn in the side of city planning officials. Millions of dollars in public investment over several decades have been sunk into this stretch of once-historic cityscape that now consists largely of vacant lots, the legacy of neglected storefronts and rowhouses the city acquired and then demolished.

Today, nearly all of the city-owned properties on this three-block stretch are slated to be rebuilt as private homes or apartments, holding out the promise that the long-dormant corridor can be rehabilitated and returned to the tax rolls. But the city’s track record with regard to the neighborhood has made skeptics of area residents, who are taking a wait-and-see attitude about the fresh development plans for what many morosely call the “dead zone.”

On the north side of the 800 and 900 blocks, a development team made up of Atlantic Investment LLC; Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse; and Banks Contracting wants to build 100 rowhouses with garages. “It’s what they call ‘Georgetown-style’ townhouses,” says Atlantic’s attorney, Claude Edward Hitchcock. Hitchcock did not say how much the development would cost to build, but “funding is the issue” in the company’s ongoing exclusive negotiations with the city Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) over the properties.

The Atlantic site is located in the federal Empowerment Zone, a special district in which tax incentives and federal subsidies are available to boost job creation and urban renewal. The proposal was presented last summer to the Village Center of Poppleton (VCP), a nonprofit formed to oversee Empowerment Zone activities in the community.

Doris Hall, board chair of VCP, says the organization has “agreed in concept” with the Atlantic Investment team’s plan as presented to the group last summer, but she adds VCP hasn’t heard anything from the developers in “quite some time.” “If we don’t have some feedback,” Hall said during a March 6 meeting of the Village Center’s land-use committee, “we may want to change our commitment.”

Hitchcock says his perception is that the Poppleton community “is fairly excited” about the development because residents “did not want that street to be retail and did want additional middle-class families,” the market Atlantic is targeting. Hall agrees the middle-class flavor of Atlantic’s plan is in keeping with VCP’s desires: “We need more taxable income so that people vote more and have some influence” over the city’s decision-making process for the area.

Past plans to redevelop the Atlantic site have caused extensive controversy in the community. In 1979, a City Council bill to change the properties’ zoning from business to residential was defeated, but into the early 1990s HCD continued to base plans for the area on the defeated residential zoning. This irked residents who knew the land was zoned for businesses and hoped to see a commercial revitalization there.

In January 1991, the council considered a resolution calling for an independent audit of HCD’s use of federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) in Poppleton. The resolution, which did not pass, raised numerous questions about the city’s use of the federal funds. Poppleton residents say they’ve never gotten an adequate picture of how approximately $1.5 million in CDBG funds earmarked for redevelopment of what are now the Atlantic properties has been spent. In particular, concerns have been voiced about allocations of $100,000 for a temporary park in 1982 and $50,000 for public improvements in 1991, both in the 800 block of West Baltimore Street, where there is no tangible evidence of a park or recent improvements.

The $1.5 million does not include millions more in CDBG funds that went toward the relocation of the New Gold bottling plant, which stood at 926—944 W. Baltimore St. before it was demolished last month. In 1992, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development criticized as “excessive” the city’s proposed use of $5.5 million in CDBG funds for the plant’s relocation. No plans have been announced for the former New Gold site.

Nearly $1 million more in CDBG funds has been sunk into preparing the 1000 block of West Baltimore Street for renovation and redevelopment. On this block, HCD is working with the Frederick Avenue Development Corp. on a proposal to demolish and redevelop four city-owned historic properties and renovate parts of two others. Frederick’s current plans are for apartments and some commercial space.

In January, the city Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation approved the plan, which would save 1001 W. Baltimore St.–a circa-1830s structure the commission considers the most historic building remaining in the Poppleton area–and the arched facade of 1011 W. Baltimore. Frederick obtained development rights to these properties in 1993; at the same time it purchased 11 other properties on the same block for $150,000, about a quarter of their assessed value. Frederick offered to buy the 11 renovated properties after the previous developer defaulted on several city and state loans used to fix them up.

Frederick’s board chairperson, Leonard Moyer, did not return a reporter’s phone call. Neither did his attorney, Theodore Potthast.

Betsy Waters, president of the Hollins Market Neighborhood Association, said during the March 6 VCP committee meeting that her group wants “not to see any more rental developments” in its nine-block area of jurisdiction, which includes the Frederick proposal. But the neighborhood association has not taken an official stand on Moyer’s plans.

Some residents worry the two historic structures pegged for partial renovation, 1001 and 1011 W. Baltimore St., won’t survive the demolition of the surrounding properties. Their skepticism is based on an occurrence last month at nearby 946 W. Baltimore St. The historic, structurally sound corner building at that address was razed without a required permit when a city demolition contractor wrecked the former New Gold plant. Community leaders say they were told by city officials that the unpermitted demolition was an accident.

Moyer’s plans for the property have generated anxiety in the Hollins Market neighborhood since his company bought the parcels. In 1993, when Frederick acquired the 1000 block properties from the city, community leaders testified before the city Board of Estimates that they were worried Moyer would be an absentee landlord. Their concerns proved unfounded–Moyer can be seen on his property daily, perched in a chair on the sidewalk or chatting with passersby. And he has kept up his properties, although court records show Frederick is currently being sued by a contracting company that alleges Frederick owes $25,000 in unpaid bills for renovations done in 1994.

Ultimately, according to Hall, VCP hopes to see the West Baltimore Street corridor in Poppleton become a “corridor of health-related businesses and offices,” a strategy grounded in the hope that the proximity of the University of Maryland Medical Center and Bon Secours Hospital will attract health-care businesses. She also expresses hope that a land-use plan currently being prepared by VCP, to be completed in the coming months, will provide the impetus for actual redevelopment and bring to an end decades of controversial and thus far fruitless efforts to revitalize West Baltimore Street.

Burning Questions: Understaffed and Overworked, the Baltimore City Fire Department – Once Hailed as the Nation’s Best – Faces a Crisis Point


By Michael Anft and Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Apr. 29, 1998

In April 1996, a South Baltimore rowhouse catches fire. Most of the fire engines and trucks stationed near the house in the 100 block of West Fort Avenue are fighting another blaze in Pigtown. The first unit to arrive at the scene, five minutes after the 911 call reaches Baltimore City Fire Department headquarters, comes from a station northeast of downtown, nearly three miles away. A 66-year-old resident, taking an afternoon nap, dies in the blaze, which occurs in an area where two firehouses had been shut down in recent years.

Nine months later, on an ice-cold January morning, a blaze breaks out near a kitchen stove used to heat a Reservoir Hill rowhouse. Four residents perish. Of the six units (four engines and two trucks) sent to 909 Chauncy Ave. that morning on the first alarm, only one would have been dispatched in the late 1980s. But since then, three nearby engine companies, a truck, and an aerial tower (combined pumper and ladder truck) company had been closed due to budget cuts. As a result, the alarm assignment is filled by more distant companies, some from two miles away. A spokesperson for the fire officers’ union calls the deaths “criminal.”

These are the two most tragic tales cited by firefighters when they explain the slow, painful dilution of the Baltimore City Fire Department (BCFD)–once considered by outside observers to be among the nation’s best–but they are hardly the only ones. Rank-and-file firefighters and their union leaders worry that the shrinking of the department has significantly slowed response times and put the public at risk. They claim the Schmoke administration has neglected BCFD’s needs, even as the Baltimore City Police Department’s budget has spiraled upward. “We’re the stepchild of the public-safety system,” says Rick Schluderberg, acting president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 734.

Most observers agree that under the leadership of Chief Herman Williams Jr., who was appointed in April 1992, BCFD has made strides in reducing fire deaths, improving minority hiring, and purchasing fire equipment. But the department’s annual budget since fiscal year 1993 has failed to keep up with inflation, despite increases in calls for fire-service and fire-company assistance. Calls for service, after a 185 percent increase over the past 18 years, dropped slightly in 1997, but city firefighters maintain that the force still is stretched to the limit.

Department officials point out that the reduction in fire-suppression staff by about 20 percent over the past decade mirrors a similar decline in the city’s population. “We don’t have the same fire-protection needs we had 10 years ago,” Williams says. “There’s a shift in the fire load. We have to decide where the right places are to put apparatus.”

But union leaders dispute the notion that a smaller population has reduced the need for services. “When people move out of town, they don’t take their houses with them,” Fire Officers Union Local 964 President Stephan Fugate says. Williams readily acknowledges that the city’s estimated 50,000 vacant homes are frequently targets of arson. And Fugate notes that even as the city’s resident population has dropped to about 700,000, the number of people here during the workday is nearly 1.5 million, “and it’s not going down.” Those still living here, firefighters contend, constitute a needier population than in the past–older, poorer, and more likely than their suburban neighbors to require an emergency vehicle to get to the hospital. (Baltimore leads the nation in medic-assistance runs by fire equipment, according to department officials.)

There are also Baltimore’s budget realities to contend with. Mayor Kurt Schmoke says BCFD’s downsizing “was done deliberately because the department was oversized.” When he assumed office in 1987, the police department needed more personnel and the fire department was overstaffed, he says–“It was not a question of me ignoring [the BCFD] or choosing one public-safety agency over the other.”

Schmoke acknowledges gaps in BCFD’s current performance: “Could the department use some improvement? The answer is yes.” But he maintains that, despite several successive years of budget trims, the fire department still “does serve the citizens well.”

“We’ve done the best with what we have,” says J. Hollis Albert III, a member of the city’s Board of Fire Commissioners (commonly known as the fire board). “We’ve done a great job of managing our budget.” But budget considerations make it impossible to maintain the staffing levels of a decade ago, fire officials say. “I have no control over the budget,” Williams says. “I have $95 million and I have to make it work.”


Having to “make it work” has apparently taken its toll. According to a study commissioned by the fire board, it took, on average, 11/2 minutes for the first BCFD unit to arrive at the scene of a fire call in 1988. A 1996 response-time study by the two fire unions indicated the figure had doubled to three minutes. Battalion Chief Hector Torres, a BCFD spokesperson, now says the department is pleased with a recent study of its own showing that 85 percent of first-arriving units make it to a fire scene within five minutes.

Torres disputes that the purported drop in response times indicates “that we’ve lowered our standards.” He notes that the 1988 study “was based on a hypothetical model”–predicting response times based on such factors as geography and traffic patterns–whereas the BCFD study tracked actual response times.

Firefighters and union sources cite several key factors contributing to what they characterize as a shortfall in services:

· Staffing. The department now has 1,411 firefighters, down from 1,664 in 1990. As a result, the unions contend, the department shells out nearly $4 million a year in overtime. Union leaders fear the staff could shrink even further come October, when 595 firefighters are eligible to leave under the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), a program implemented in 1996 that offers police and fire personnel incentives to stay on the job beyond the standard 20 years. Williams estimates 100 to 125 of those firefighters will depart.

“We’re months away from disaster,” Fugate says. “It makes me think that cutting positions is the endgame for management.” If firefighters leave faster than the department can replace them, he warns, the result could be more fire-company closures because of a lack of new personnel to replace retirees. Schmoke agrees, saying, “If everybody who is eligible left, we are not ready to replace them.”

Since switching last year from a 14-week program at the Fire Academy to a four- to five-year apprenticeship program, BCFD has trained only 26 cadets. The apprentices earn $18,000 a year (compared to $25,000 for first-year firefighters) and they are qualified to drive ambulances and stand in for firefighters when necessary. Department officials say the program was instituted to encourage minority recruitment, but union leaders maintain it’s designed to cut labor costs while ostensibly maintaining higher staffing levels.

Williams scoffs at the notion of a looming firefighter shortage. He cites a “contingency plan”–which Schmoke says he expects to see shortly–for filling soon-to-be-vacant positions. Although the chief offers few details, he does note a proposal to shorten the training process for certified paramedics who wish to become firefighters, thus filling slots faster. He also will begin a new class of 25 apprentices on May 4, he says.

As for overtime, Williams does not blame personnel shortages, but a union-negotiated “first choice” vacation plan that he says mandates days off at an employee’s whim. Fugate says that’s not true. “It’s a management problem,” he says. Since each firefighter in a company is assigned a rotation number within that company, he says, “only certain guys can take vacation on certain days. It works out to about one-sixth of a shift [50 to 60 firefighters] eligible [for vacation] on any given day. The number of guys taking vacation is something the department can generally figure out, if it wanted to. If we weren’t understaffed, we wouldn’t need to spend so much on overtime.”

· Equipment availability. In 1995 and ’96, BCFD tried to keep overtime costs down by closing some firehouses during certain shifts. Such “rotation closures” became controversial when fires broke out near firehouses that were temporarily shut down. The department dropped the idea, but some firefighters now claim BCFD has continued a variation on the policy, shutting down up to four pieces of firefighting apparatus daily for “preventive maintenance” at its Key Highway repair yard, which is operated by the Department of Public Works. “We call it ‘pretend maintenance,'” says Fugate. “It’s done for the same reasons as the rotation closures–to hold down overtime. . . . It’s all a shell game.”

Torres says only one unit is shut down daily for maintenance. “There was a belief that we were using preventive maintenance so that we wouldn’t have to man all of our equipment,” he says. “That’s simply not true.” Previously, he adds, fire equipment was sent to Key Highway with a full staff, but “Chief Williams decided in 1995 or 1996 to [send] the firefighters to other stations where firefighters were needed.” Torres acknowledges that not every piece of equipment sent to the repair yard gets maintenance: “It’s not done sometimes [due to] the shop’s priorities.”

In addition, up to four pieces of firefighting equipment may be closed daily in the event of a “red medic alert,” during which firefighters assigned to those companies will man one of the BCFD’s four reserve ambulances in times of heavy ambulance demand. As a result, the department’s current stock of 62 engines and trucks–down from 90 in the 1970s and below the 66 to 70 pieces of equipment recommended for BCFD by a 1988 fire board–commissioned study–could dip as low as 57 on any given day.

· Ramshackle firehouses and low morale. Many firefighters point to peeling paint, asbestos, leaky roofs, inoperable heating systems, and broken floors at firehouses as evidence of city neglect. One says the dilapidated working conditions affect morale. “It’s a constant reminder that we’re on a sinking ship,” says the firefighter, who requested anonymity. (Because BCFD is a quasimilitary operation, many firefighters asked that their names be withheld for fear of disciplinary action.) The last new firehouse in the city, at Garrison Boulevard and Liberty Heights Avenue, was built in 1990, before Williams took over the department. The chief says that a 1995 city bond issue will result in a new station at Kirk Avenue and East 25th Street, and two other stations are in the works.

Williams bristles at suggestions that morale has any impact on fire service: “When the [fire gong] goes off–no matter all the complaining–they go out and do their jobs.”

Firefighters agree that morale questions have no place at the fire scene, but they say it does affect them. Fire-board member Delaphine Henson contends that better equipment and new uniforms have helped firefighters feel better about their jobs, but the rank and file say they’d prefer more substantive recognition. Most firefighters say that they never see Williams unless there is a big fire and news cameras are present, a reputation that has led to negative comparisons to Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier. “He’s our flash-bulb Frazier,” says Lt. David Bilenki, who has served 31 years and retires in June.

As an example of headquarters’ insensitivity leading to rank-and-file discouragement, Bilenki points to Williams’ awarding of citations to the Fire Prevention Bureau because of a decreasing number of fire deaths. Firefighters in the field felt slighted because it was largely they, not Prevention Bureau staffers, who went door to door throughout the city delivering smoke detectors. “That’s a morale builder for you,” Bilenki says sarcastically.

City Council member Lois Garey (D-1st District) believes morale problems make BCFD jobs less desirable for some who would once have considered a career in the department. “In the past,” she says, “we’ve seen second- and third-generation firefighters. I’m not sure we’ll see that for much longer.”


At the heart of the matter, internal department critics say, is a lack of respect from City Hall. According to sources close to the situation, Schmoke ditched his three original appointees to the fire board in 1992 because they were too active in discussing budget matters, then sought a board–the current one–that would merely be “advisory.” In 1996, a City Charter amendment that Schmoke had pushed for years made the fire chief accountable to the mayor, not the board, which previously had the authority to fire the chief. Critics contend the changes created a cozy relationship among Williams, Schmoke, and the board, leaving no one from within the department to fight the administration over the budget. With such staunch BCFD defenders as Mary Pat Clarke, Joseph DiBlasi, and Tim Murphy leaving the City Council in recent years, Schmoke has faced little sparring over cuts in the fire budget.

Ironically, the one area in which the department has quantitatively improved may have contributed to its fiscal troubles. “Ten years ago, fire deaths were way up [59 in 1988, compared to 24 last year], and we were the big guys, budgetwise,” Bilenki says. “Now, crime captures all the headlines and the police are the big guys.”


The current state of affairs is a far cry from the BCFD’s status for most of this century.

The department’s modern history began in the aftermath of the legendary Great Fire of 1904. The rebuilding of the city after the devastating blaze included liberal increases in firehouses and equipment. Much of downtown’s fire protection was then predicated on quick response by horse-drawn pumpers and ladder companies, which meant that firehouses were relatively close to one another–sometimes no more than three or four blocks apart.

In the years following World War II, the by-then-mechanized BCFD maintained its saturated downtown presence while extending outward to what once were suburbs and farms. Faced with aging housing stock, a surfeit of industry, and a growing population, the department began developing a top-flight national reputation for interior firefighting (as opposed to the “surround-and-drown” technique) and almost instantaneous response-times.

The city’s history and the BCFD’s efficiency made the department a political sacred cow. As firefighters doused multi-alarm fires during the riots of 1968 and suspicious blazes around the waterfront in the early 1970s, their stature with the public grew. (Fire-department lore, long rumored but never proven, has it that the waterfront fires were an example of what one firefighter calls “urban removal”–alleged torching of buildings in areas slated for urban renewal, to avoid high demolition costs.)

The department was in its glory years, with nearly 60 fire engines, 30 trucks, five hose companies, 11 battalions, and numerous support staff. Supplemented considerably by federal revenue-sharing funds (which made up about half the department’s budget in 1980 but dwindled until they were discontinued after fiscal year 1986), the department budget rarely fell victim to City Hall’s knife. In a 1987 Evening Sun survey measuring public feeling about city agencies, only BCFD was rated “very good” by the paper’s readers.

BCFD enjoyed a similar status in the national fire-services community. Firehouse magazine began holding its national expo in Baltimore annually–the better, expo literature touted, to see a world-class firefighting operation in action. A National League of Cities researcher told a fire-board member in 1988 that Baltimore owned, without question, the best department in the nation.


By the end of Mayor William Donald Schaefer’s last term in the mid-1980s, however, talks of cutbacks had begun in earnest. A double house (in which both an engine and a truck reside) was closed amid controversy in Locust Point. Soon, many of the inner-city firehouses built shortly after the 1904 fire were closed or consolidated. City Hall, by then occupied by Schmoke, was met with only scattered resistance.

When Schmoke took office, he recalls, “I determined Baltimore had a bloated fire department. We were either number one or number two nationally in firefighters per capita. What I saw was a department in need of downsizing and improved efficiency.” The mayor’s plan to bring the department’s size down to what he deemed an appropriate level barely ruffled political feathers, much less the public’s, except in one instance when he attempted to close an engine company on Fort Avenue in South Baltimore.

“We’re the most fire-sensitive city in the country,” says David Glenn, president of the fire board from 1988 to 1992. “But even here not too many people get excited when a firehouse is closed–unless it’s in their neighborhood.”

Glenn’s tenure as board president was marked by concerns over a flat fire-suppression budget, firehouse closings, racial equality in hiring, and the institution of a BCFD drug policy. Glenn is proud of his board’s accomplishments, but he acknowledges that he and fellow commissioners Samuel Redd and Richard Jamison frequently ran afoul of Schmoke, who appointed them. “We did reasonable things,” Glenn says, “but there were times when the mayor was peeved at me. I was a little too activistic for him.”

Redd, a West Baltimore mortician, says the board used its City Charter-backed powers to the fullest extent: “We did everything from riding with the guys on the equipment to talking with the unions to hearing appeals from disciplined firefighters.”

According to Glenn, the tide turned for the board late in 1991, when a television reporter asked for his view of a proposed 20 percent reduction in BCFD funding. “I told him it would be catastrophic,” Glenn recalls. “The next day, Schmoke calls [then–fire Chief Peter J. O’Connor] and says, ‘What? Is [Glenn] trying to kill us?’ even though I was O’Connor’s superior.” In January 1992, Schmoke told Glenn he would not be appointed to the board for a second term.

Redd speculates that the 1988–92 board “may not have been asked back so that Herman Williams could be named chief. There was talk that [the board] could hire from within, or do a national search. The City Charter read that we had the power to hire and fire. I don’t know that Williams was high on our list.”

A newly formed board of Harry Peaker, Delaphine Henson (wife of Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III), and J. Hollis Albert III took over in February 1992, and Williams was appointed to the then-$98,000-per-year job in April. (The chief’s current salary is about $116,000, according to the city budget office.) “I made clear to them that they were an advisory board,” Schmoke says, “not a policy board.”


Williams, father of TV talk-show host Montel Williams, is a former pump operator and battalion chief who had spent the previous 12 years as a supervisor in the city’s Department of Transportation. He says when he assumed the chief’s job he immediately started tackling the department’s image problems, buying new equipment and dress uniforms for firefighters so they wouldn’t looks so “ragtag.”

The newly reconstituted fire board played an entirely different role than that of its predecessors.

“The board is here to understand the department’s problems and see what can be done to alleviate them,” Peaker, the new board’s president, said at a meeting on April 16, 1992, the day Herman Williams was appointed chief. It was apparently not there to deal with fiscal issues–minutes of board meetings indicate that any regular or detailed discussion of the department’s budget problems ceased.

This is in marked contrast to the previous board, which, according to meeting minutes, would spend a good portion of its monthly gatherings heatedly discussing how to fight City Hall for more firefighting money or bemoaning the impending loss of department capacity wrought by budget cuts. During a Jan. 14, 1991 discussion of impending budget cuts, according to meeting minutes, Glenn “stated that the Board is suspending the policy that we are . . . charging the Chief with implementing the Mayor’s policy”–in effect declaring that the department would spend as required to ensure fire protection without regard to the official budget.


With the advent of a new board so markedly quiet about budget matters came a new funding climate for BCFD. In Schmoke’s first five budgets after his election in 1987, the department’s budget kept pace with inflation. Starting with the fiscal year 1994 spending plan, however, the BCFD budget slipped behind the inflation rate, and the gap has increased ever since. During most of this period the overall city budget has not merely kept pace with inflation, but grown faster than inflation.

Meanwhile, Schmoke has padded the budget for the police department–the other, bigger side of the public-safety sector–with spending increases that outpace inflation. Similarly, police department ranks have increased by 6 percent since 1988 compared to a 20 percent cut in BCFD’s fire-suppression personnel (figure 2, page 18).

“Constituents scream out more about crime than anything else,” council member Sheila Dixon (D-4th District) says. Where firefighting capacity is concerned, she says, “the issue is always brought up that we do have more than we need because the city’s population is down.”

But data compiled by the firefighters’ unions indicate that despite the falling population, demand for BCFD services is on the rise. In 1980, when the city’s population was almost 787,000, the department’s fire-suppression units responded to 69,665 calls for service, according to the unions’ studies. In 1995, when the city’s population had fallen to barely more than 700,000, there were 101,968 such calls.

As noted by Fugate and others, three factors contribute to this phenomenon: the swollen daytime population; the growing number of aging, vacant homes in the city; and skyrocketing demand for emergency medical services. During busy times for city ambulances, fire equipment has to be dispatched to provide assistance until an ambulance can arrive. The incidence of such “medic assists” rose from zero in 1980 to nearly 39,000 in 1995.

Some council members maintain that even in the face of this demand, Williams has been less aggressive than his predecessor in fighting for budget dollars. “He’s not as vocal as O’Connor,” Dixon says. Garey agrees. “I would like to see the fire department advocate for itself more strongly,” she says. “They’re told, ‘We’re going to cut your budget,’ and that’s OK. The only furor is when the public becomes aware” of a shortage of fire service.

Council member Nicholas D’Adamo (D-1st District), however, asserts that the chief “will not be the puppet for the administration. At the beginning [the Schmoke administration] thought they might control him, but there’s no controlling Herman Williams.”

There is also a level of personal politics at work in the annual fire-department budget battle. Since Williams became chief, according to city-government sources, word around City Hall has been that he is out of favor with the mayor’s inner circle and thus has little impact on budget decisions.

The chief also has had political problems with City Council. Former council member Joan Carter Conway, now a state senator, recalls cutting off a 1995 council hearing on the BCFD budget after butting heads with Williams, whom she says refused to answer tough questions on the department’s fiscal management. Last year, the council cut $600,000 from the department budget in what D’Adamo characterized as “a signal that the council wanted to send Herman Williams” that the department wasn’t keeping council members abreast of plans in their districts. “We have to answer for what’s going on in our districts,” D’Adamo says, “and if we don’t know what’s happening it doesn’t look good.” He and Garey also assert that the council wanted to trim what it perceived as fat in BCFD’s administrative budget. “There are too many chiefs and not enough Indians,” Garey says.


For many rank-and-filers, the budget drought of recent years can have life-or-death consequences. In the early 1990s, the fire department tried cutting back from four-man crews on engines to three to save on personnel costs, despite being fought by the Glenn-led fire board. After a lieutenant died of a heart attack after fighting a blaze on West Lombard Street, the department returned to four-man crews.

Bilenki contends–and some fire-safety groups agree–that keeping fire companies fully manned and response times short is more important now than ever. Today’s fires, they say, become more deadly more quickly, due largely to the use of oil-based plastics in the manufacture of furniture, rugs, drapes, and appliances.

“Fires burn much hotter more quickly than they did 10 years ago,” says Alan Caldwell, director of government affairs for the International Association of Fire Chiefs. The burning of those plastics also releases toxic gases that can kill people faster.

Caldwell sees a response time of four to six minutes as “good,” but Bilenki says these faster-burning fires make speed of the essence for responding units, particularly at night when the residents of a burning home are likely to be asleep. “You see houses fully involved [in fire] in about two minutes now,” he says. “It used to be five minutes.”

Just as important as the response time, Bilenki contends, is its force. “Three minutes is good, but you need an engine and a truck there at the same time–not just the engine from around the corner.” That’s why firefighters beef so much about station closings, he says. Without a truck ventilating a building and searching for people trapped inside, an engine company is almost powerless to enter a building for fear of a “backdraft,” or surge of fire. Conversely, a truck company can ventilate, but without an engine company to spray a fire with water, rescue is more difficult and firefighters more at risk.

The station closures have made meeting both response requirements difficult, Bilenki says, creating what he calls “holes” in fire service. One such hole may have been exposed in the Chauncy Avenue fire that claimed four lives. Engine companies on Druid Hill Avenue, Mount Royal Avenue, McCulloch and 21st Streets; a truck company on McMechen Street; and an aerial tower at North Avenue and Interstate 83–most of which would have responded on the first alarm to that blaze–had been shut down in the previous 11 years.

The first-alarm district for Bilenki’s Engine 8 company, stationed on Lafayette Avenue near Gilmor Street in West Baltimore, has at times included parts of Greenmount and North Avenues, nearly two miles away. “One night,” he says, “we were assigned on a first alarm in Hampden,” four miles to the northeast. “It took us almost 15 minutes to get there.”

Such concerns reflect some firefighters’ convictions that the department’s funding level will forever be tied to the numbers of fire deaths. In the absence of frequent fatalities, staff and equipment increases will remain a low priority for City Hall–a stance, some firefighters and department critics contend, that amounts to a game of Russian roulette.

“It’s going to take a major catastrophe or two in a short period of time,” David Glenn says, “to get people interested in the fire department again.”

The High Life: Ex-Con Has High-Powered Help in Opening Nightclub

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Jan. 3, 1996


Kenneth Antonio Jackson, Jr., aka “Kenny Bird,” is out to become a leader in minority enterprise in the downtown entertainment market. By opening a big new nightclub, he and his supporters – including state Senator Larry Young and City Council President Lawrence Bell – hope to make “the region’s neighborhood” more inviting to the city’s prominent black middle class.

On December 22, Jackson’s lawyer, former Circuit Court judge and city solicitor George Russell of the law firm Piper and Marbury, received word that the liquor board had approved a liquor license and floor plans for the Sons of Italy building at 410 West Fayette Street, where Jackson has started renovations to open a jazz club/restaurant called the Royal Café. Jackson envisions the club as an upscale venue for national acts such as Lou Rawls and Aretha Franklin, which will attract middle-class and wealthy blacks over 30 years old.

Jackson’s initial plan for the large three-story building was to house a high-end/multistage strip club. Land records show KAJ Enterprises, a company owned by Jackson’s mother, Rosalie Jackson, purchased the building in April 1995 for $250,000 from the Sons of Italy, a fraternal order. (Jackson manages his mother’s strip club, the Eldorado Lounge, at 322 West Baltimore Street.) But when word of his plan circulated among the neighborhood’s main institutions – Lexington Market, the University of Maryland, and the Downtown Partnership – the resulting outcry led him to change his proposal to something more palatable: a reputable jazz and supper club. At a September 28th liquor-board hearing about the proposal, Russell explained that “at first [Jackson] was thinking about adult entertainment; that is gone. … This is going to be legitimate. … Even I would go there.”

The focus of the hearing was concerns that the Royal Café will exacerbate existing security problems in the neighborhood, which on weekend nights already attracts as many as 2,000 rowdy young adults cruising the streets until the wee hours. Shootings, stabbings, and many arrests have occurred in the area over the past year or so. But Russell suggested that the resistance to this new club is really due to the fact that the owners and operators are black. “It is time for people … downtown to be willing to embrace others different from them, others whose culture may be different from them, to demonstrate to the community that we can get along here.”

Young also testified on Jackson’s behalf at the hearing, saying that the venture is a positive example of minority entrepreneurship. “When it comes to downtown business,” Young declared, “blacks to not have a fair share. And I’m here to say that minorities who come up with the right qualifications, follow the laws, and [do] all that they should do should be given the opportunity to participate. And this is an entrepreneur that I strongly support.”

Unaddressed at the hearing, though, were the issues of Jackson’s criminal past and the financing of his new venture.

Jackson’s rap sheet extends back to 1974, when at age 16 he was charged with murder and acquitted by a jury. In 1977 he was again charged with murder, but pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a 10-year suspended sentence with five years’ probation. From then until the end of 1984, Jackson faced 47 other criminal charges in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard County, New York, and Falls Church, Virginia, involving narcotics, handguns, murder, theft, bribery, and harboring a fugitive. These included charges stemming from allegations that Jackson was involved in a drug war for control of the Lafayette Courts public-housing project, but those charges were dismissed in 1982, according to a 1989 Sun article.

Federal-court affidavits in 1985 named Jackson as a lieutenant in the drug ring headed by Melvin D. “Little Melvin” Williams, who was sentenced that year to 34 years in prison. Also in 1985, Jackson pleaded guilty to narcotics and handgun-possession charges and accepted a five-year suspended sentence and five years’ probation. When he violated probation by leaving the state without permission – he and two companions were pulled over on the New Jersey Turnpike with $91,000 and a large amount of lidocaine, which is used to dilute cocaine, in their car – Circuit Court Judge Elsbethe Bothe gave him two years’ incarceration. Jackson appealed the case in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which overturned the probation-violation conviction in September 1988.

In June 1988, Jackson was again pulled over on the New Jersey Turnpike, this time with nearly $700,000 in cash in the trunk of his car. He was charged with attempting to bribe his arresting officer with $200,000 and received probation before judgement. In April 1989, Jackson and two other Baltimore men were arrested by federal agents and charged with the 1984 murder in New York of cocaine wholesaler Felix Gonzalez. At the time of his arrest, federal agents also raided the Eldorado Lounge. He was acquitted of the murder charge by a New York State Supreme Court jury in May 1991.

Since returning the Baltimore after his acquittal in New York, Jackson has avoided new charges while making friends in high places. In last year’s elections, for instance, the Eldorado Lounge or Jackson himself gave $1,000 to the Schmoke re-election campaign and $3,500 to Bell’s successful bid for City Council president. When Jackson was seeking liquor-board approval for his new club, Bell submitted a letter to the board expressing his familiarity with Jackson and his support for Jackson’s venture. Both Young and Bell say they did not know of Jackson’s criminal past until asked about it by a reporter.

George Russell would not comment for this article, but Jackson says of his criminal history, “I’m trying hard to put my past in the past.” As indication of his efforts to do so, Jackson points out several public-service awards he has received in recent years, including a 1994 Mayor’s Citation from Kurt Schmoke and a 1990 Congressional Achievement Award from Kweisi Mfume. He is active in the newly formed political-action committee, A Piece of JUICE, which works to get African American men involved in the political process.

Shortly before the April 1995 purchase of the Sons of Italy building, however, Jackson and the building both figured in an undercover FBI investigation into the drug-money-laundering operations of businessman Gregory Scroggins and attorney Zell Margolis, who were convicted in December 1995. First assistant United States attorney Gary Jordan, who prosecuted the case, says that in March 1995, Scroggins introduced Jackson to Edward Dickson, a man he though was a drug dealer but was actually an undercover FBI agent. The purpose was to convince Jackson to let Dickson in on the purchase as a “silent partner,” Jordan says. FBI transcripts of wiretapped conversations in the case document Scroggins’ opinion of Jackson, a childhood friend, as very wealthy, highly intelligent, and “the nicest guy in the world, but he’s a killer and he has killed.”

As for the nightclub’s financing, land records indicate that KAJ Enterprises obtained a $200,000 mortgage from Maryland Permanent Bank and Trust of Owings Mills to finance the $250,000 purchase of the Sons of Italy building. The mortgage calls for monthly payments of more than $2,300.

Meanwhile, court records indicate that Jackson’s employment at the Eldorado Lounge paid $325 a week in 1988, although he says he now makes substantially more than that. Since Jackson is a convicted felon, he cannot apply for a liquor license; Mary Collins, who refused interview requests, applied instead. She is a guidance counselor for Baltimore City Public Schools.

Regarding the financing for the new club, Jackson explains that all expenses not covered by the $200,000 mortgage so far have been covered by revenue from the Eldorado Lounge. The extensive renovations to the Sons of Italy building ultimately will require a sizable bank loan, he says, adding that the Eldorado Lounge has applied for a $500,000 loan from Nationsbank.

Asked why the liquor board did not inquire during the September 28th hearing about the club’s financing or whether Collins has the money to fund such a major investment, liquor-board executive secretary Aaron Stansbury explained that the board simply chose not to. He also stated that it is “obviously illegal” for a straw person to hold a liquor license on behalf of the actual owner of the club, but his understanding is that Collins is the club owner, while KAJ Enterprises is merely the landlord; Stansbury says that it is legal for a landlord to fund the building renovations on the club’s behalf. “It is presumed by the board that [the money for the club] comes from Mary Collins,” Stansbury said. Of Jackson’s criminal background, Stansbury said the board was not aware of it “to the extent that [Jackson] couldn’t manage the club.”

Subversive Cure: Guerrilla Stencilers Say Local Art Is Lacking at the BMA

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, June 12, 1996

From under a veil of anonymity, a group of Baltimoreans is running a satirical propaganda campaign called “Gene Therapy” to cure the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) of its alleged lack of “localness.”

So far, the group – which is thought to consist of local artists with a history of subversive collaboration – has painted stencils near the BMA building and other locations in the city. It has also distributed press releases that wittily explain the project and criticize the museum for what local artists have long perceived as an unwillingness to showcase and support the Baltimore arts scene.

The Cultural Cryptanalysts Collective (CCC), as the group calls itself, claims one of its stencils, which bears the word “local” on an image resembling a drill or injection device, will improve the BMA’s “institutional health” by transmitting “genetic materials encrypted with the aesthetic locality of Baltimore” into the institution’s “DNA,” according to the group’s first press release, dated May 13.

“An independent team of scientists, cryptanalysts, and folk mathematicians say that this newly discovered form of gene therapy via stenciled art will revive the moribund museum from its decades-long coma,” the release continues.

The stencil was applied to a concrete walkway next to the original BMA building’s southeastern facade in early May, but the images have since been removed. The group also takes credit for stencils that have appeared at various locations in the Remington, Charles Village, Abell, and Greenmount West neighborhoods.

No one has stepped forward to publicly represent the Cryptanalysts, and the group’s makeup remains a mystery. A member of Western Cell Division, another anonymous arts groups that is curating a stencil-art exhibit for this summer’s Artscape festival, believes the likely suspects include five or 10 people who have conducted street-stencil campaigns before.  (Stencil artists often operate in secrecy because their work is considered vandalism.) Gary Kachadourian, the visual-arts coordinator of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Art and Culture (MACAC), agrees with the Western Cell Division member, putting the number of possible CCC members at eight to 10.

Brenda Richardson, the BMA’s curator of modern painting and sculpture, issued a written statement to the press in response to the CCC campaign: “We are still struggling – along with the rest of the international art world – to distinguish between graffiti as a valid art expression and graffiti as vandalism of public property. … Setting that issue aside, however, we enjoy hearing from CCC! The group’s mailings are inventive and articulate … and I’ve come to look forward to the mail each day to see what they have to say.”

The CCC effort began about two months before the unveiling of a stencil-work exhibit entitled On the Street/Off the Street, set to open at Maryland Art Place during Artscape in late July. Preparations for that stencil show and other recent research into collaborative performance-art activities in Baltimore in the 1970s and 80s have brought to light largely undocumented chapters in Baltimore’s arts history. The Western Cell Division member believes this recent revival of interest in the history of local subversive art may have inspired the CCC.

That revival began at the 1992 Artscape, which included a show called Humor as a Subversive Act: An Exhibition Propagandizing Baltimore Art. The exhibit included references to the early 1980s stenciling craze in Baltimore, when five to 10 artists left their work on the city’s streets, alleys, and other public spaces.

For this year’s festival, Artscape ’92 curator Peter Walsh is preparing a written essay entitled “Mapping Social and Cultural Space: The Ramifications of the Street Stencil” which will chronicle several stencil projects in the city over the last 15 years – including the CCC campaign – and illustrate the way street-stencil artists transmit information through coded messages directed at specific parties.

Megan Hamilton, the Fells Point Creative Alliance’s program director, documented the cultural context for Baltimore’s street-stenciling heyday in “The Banquet Years: Baltimore Performance Art, 1979-1985,” a paper she completed in May for a University of Maryland-Baltimore County art-criticism course. Hamilton’s paper chronicles a previously undocumented flurry of local collaborative arts activity, including stencil campaigns.

As Hamilton points out, most of the people involved in such activities did not consider what they were doing to be art; they did it for kicks, and because they had no access to mainstream outlets of expression. In fact, Michael Tolsen, aka tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE, refused to be included in the ’92 Artscape humor exhibit because he did not want his work to be considered art.

A central part of the CCC’s message is that the BMA has spurned local artists for decades. The CCC says in its press releases that the city’s main public art museum has chose to showcase work of prominent, proven contemporary artists who are already exhibited around the world. According to a CCC press release: “The BMA allows us to consume our cut-rate McWarhols, McGustons, Chicken McPollocks, Cajun BBQ McKrugers, and Fillet McKelleys.”

The response to the BMA’s exclusiveness, the Cryptanalysts argue, has been the creation of new institutions such as the American Visionary Art Museum, the Contemporary, Maryland Art Place, the Fells Point Creative Alliance, Diverse Works, Artscape, and the School 33 Art Center.

Local artists have achieved recognition in other parts of the mid-Atlantic region. The Delaware Art Museum (DAM) in Wilmington, for example, currently has the work of more than 30 Maryland artists in its biennial regional-art exhibition, which runs until July 7. Nancy Batty, the museum’s chief curator, says Baltimore artists were invited to compete for inclusion in the show because “I was aware that Baltimore has a lot of terrific artists that deserve to be in a museum biennial. Their work strengthens our show and made it much more competitive.”

Batty says DAM recently bought two works by Baltimore artists for its permanent collection, and the local work selected for the biennial, she adds, “truly can hold up on a national or international level.”

While the Delaware museum shows increasing interest in Baltimore art, the city’s own art museum stopped holding its biennial exhibit of local work more than 10 years ago, effectively ending opportunities for local artists to have their work shown under the museum’s auspices. The BMA’s reputation for spurning local artists was buttressed when Arnold Lehman, the BMA’s director, was quoted in a 1991 interview in the now-defunct monthly newspaper Harry as saying, “I don’t really believe that there is this overwhelming obligation to show Maryland artists just because they live in Maryland.” Lehman was not available for comment for this article.

The BMA’s Richardson says she disagrees with CCC’s assertion that the museum doesn’t support local art. In her written response to the CCC campaign, she explains: “At the BMA we relish art in all its myriad forms and styles, and we welcome the Cryptanalysts’ communications with us as part of the broad and varies spectrum of regional art that we include as a prominent aspect of our collection, exhibition, and performing-arts programs.” According to Richardson, since 1980, a third of the BMA’s exhibits have included some regional art.

The BMA’s reputation, whether deserved or not, for ignoring local art is deeply ingrained among local artists, and the Cryptanalysts’ message resonates among those contacted by City Paper. “I’m totally sympathetic,” Walsh says. “The BMA is notorious, and not even just in Baltimore. It is seen as this provincial dinosaur that has refused a great opportunity to be involved in a local art scene that is quickly gaining recognition.” Hamilton is more diplomatic in supporting the CCC campaign: “I’m glad that tradition is still around and still vital in the Baltimore art community.”

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.”

Hung Jury: Circuit Court Expunges Controversial 1992 Grand-Jury Report

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, June 5, 1996

The report of the May Term 1992 Baltimore City Grand Jury, which called for a state investigation of the city police department and the state’s attorney’s office after alleging “gross misconduct” on the part of members of both agencies, was expunged by order of Circuit Court Judge Edward Angeletti January 18. The order was signed without a hearing because no opposition to the expungement petition was filed with the court. The outcome of the proceeding in January drew little public notice, even from people involved in the jury process.

State Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Stuart Simms, who was the Baltimore City state’s attorney when the grand jury issued its report in March 1993, teamed up with current city State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamyn to enter the expungement petition last November. Angeles, who was assigned the case by Circuit Court Administrative Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan, concluded that the grand jury, in violation of its common-law authority, “exceeded its powers” by criticizing the local criminal-justice establishment without handing down indictments.

The 23-member grand jury found that the evidence produced during its six-month investigation (including testimony from 50 law-enforcement officials and prosecutors) “clearly demonstrates a hands-off approach when the targets were certain well-connected members of the community … . There is an organized structured effort of some present and former members of each agency to perpetuate the protection of a select few to further obvious illicit gains.” A follow-up probe by the state prosecutor’s office determined that the allegations were “unsubstantiated.”

The report specifically mentioned Simms in connection with some of its corruption allegations, according to Angeletti’s decision. A sealed version of the report, which was submitted to Kaplan in early 1993, named individuals targeted by the grand jury. The publicly released version, though, was purged of names, including Simms’. Angeletti says the expungement order calls for an effort to recover and destroy copies of the report.

The jury, which was asked by Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Lavon Johnson to look into why Baltimore’s  “war on drugs” wasn’t working, unleashed a litany of scathing criticisms in its report. It claimed that the police department’s rotation policy, in which officers are reassigned to other police units, was used to thwart criminal investigations; it noted a pattern of investigations halted by the upper echelons of the police department and the state’s attorney’s office; it alleged there was abuse of the police overtime-pay system and that there were racially discriminatory employment practices; and it claimed the police department mismanaged its criminal investigation division’s drug-enforcment section (CID-DES), which was said to operate “on its own terms with little control or direction.”

Furthermore, the grand-jury report criticized the police department brass for failing to recognize or try to stop the advance of New York drug organizations into Baltimore. And it said “contempt” and “resistance” was displayed by the state’s attorney’s office while the grand-jury investigation was conducted.

The jury made several recommendations based on its findings, including that a special prosecutor investigate the police department and the state’s attorney’s office. The jury asked that a prosecutor look into several particular allegations: selective enforcement and prosecution to protect well-connected people and drug activity in particular geographic areas; abuse and misappropriation of police overtime funds, and discriminatory police employment practices. It also called for an independent audit of the police department’s budget, focusing specifically on the fiscal accounts of CID-DES, and the jury concluded that drug drug-enforcement-section supervisors should be reassigned. Finally, the jury suggested that the police department invest in a computer-networking system and a centralized database.

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli conducted the recommended investigation. In his August 1994 final report, he wrote that “the allegations in the report have been found to be unsubstantiated. We hope that whatever damage has been done to the reputation of innocent persons has been repaired to some extent.”

In his decision, Angeletti argued that, because Montanarelli’s investigation found that the grand jury leveled unsubstantiated accusations without indictments, the officials named in the report had “no procedural safeguards to protect against loss of reputation.” To correct this, Angeletti expunged both versions of the grand jury’s report.

Simms vehemently attacked the grand jury’s work after its report was released in March 1993. He called the report “amateurish” and, in a letter published in The Sun, its process “flawed,” and its judge “misinformed.” The jury’s allegations came just as Simms was said to be on the Clinton Administration’s short list of a high-level position with the U.S. Justice Department, according to press accounts. He didn’t get the job, and nearly two years later he was appointed by Governor Parris Glendening to head the newly renamed Department of Juvenile Justice. Repeated calls from City Paper to Simms for comment on the expungement went unanswered.

Judge Johnson had no comment on the report’s expungement. Robert Massey, the foreperson of the grand jury that released the report, says he didn’t know that expungement proceedings had been initiated, but he’s not surprised the courts are quashing the report. He says he doesn’t understand the point of expungement, though.

“I don’t really see how once something has been released to the public, it can be expunged,” Massey says, pointing out that the jury’s findings were debated in the press for months after the report was issued. He says the report was “all over the place” and “a lot of tangential things” were included in it. “If anything was ever going to happen with it, it would have happened before now,” he concludes.

Montanarelli was not available to comment on the expungement order. Another prosecutor from his office, Jim Cabezas, explains that “commenting about the expungement would violate the spirit of the expungement” order.

City Council member Martin O’Malley (D-Third District), who, as a member of the council’s public-safety committee watched the grand jury’s activities closely, says he believes the report may have implicated some people unfairly but that Judge Johnson’s charge was “courageous” and “raised very relevant issues.”

“When you don’t have prosecution of corruption [in Baltimore] that you do have in other cities on the East Coast,” O’Malley says, “… it make you wonder, especially as the [drug-crime] problem continues to worsen. The problem is that there is a hell of a lot of discretion within the police department and the state’s attorney’s office, so we should be extra vigilant in making sure it isn’t abused.”