Baltimore prosecutors drop cases of 25 state corrections officers charged with excessive force

The 25 state correctional officers were accused in 2019 of using excessive force against inmates and functioning as a criminal enterprise in jails around the city

By Alex Mann
Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — Baltimore prosecutors have dropped the charges against 25 state correctional officers accused in 2019 of using excessive force against inmates and functioning as a criminal enterprise in jails around the city.

Several defense attorneys representing the officers, all of whom were part of a specialized tactical unit, questioned how the officers were charged under the state’s gang statute in the first place. The lawyers told The Baltimore Sun their clients’ lives were upended because of allegations that wouldn’t stand up in court.

“It’s a case that never should’ve been charged in the first place. It never should have gotten this far. It was beyond a stretch to suggest these guards were working in a gang together,” said defense attorney Tyler Mann, who represented Sgt. Gerald Solomon. “If they thought that certain guards were assaulting people, they should’ve charged them with assault within the applicable time frame.”

The cases had been through the hands of several assistant state’s attorneys who have since left the office before they landed with the current prosecutor. That prosecutor dismissed the charges Friday, ahead of trial for a group of the guards that was scheduled to begin Monday.

“We were ready and willing to take this case to a jury,” Mann said. “But finally someone with some sense took a look at this case and decided this is not what the gang statute was meant for.”

State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Zy Richardson said in a statement said the state couldn’t “legally continue this prosecution” after a judge threw out the assault charges.

“The State is convinced that between the years of 2016 through 2018, the defendants partook in a culture of utilizing excessive force against inmates, specifically within the TAC Unit of the Department of Corrections,” Richardson said. “However, after an extensive investigation, the State has determined that the hearings already held in these matters were legally dispositive of the remaining counts in all cases.”

Flanked by top correctional officials in December 2019, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced the indictment of 25 members of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections’ Baltimore Central Regional Tactical Unit on charges ranging from participation in a criminal gang, conspiracy, assault and misconduct in office.

At the time, Mosby and the state officials decried the alleged misconduct, including excessive force against detainees, intimidation and evidence tampering. Mosby said an investigation of what appeared to be isolated events revealed a pattern of behavior and a “criminal enterprise” within the unit dating to 2016.

The specialized unit worked at the Metropolitan Transition Center, the Baltimore Pretrial Facility, the state Corrections Department’s Jail Industries Building and the Baltimore City Booking and Intake Facility. The indictment said members of the tactical unit wore different uniforms than other corrections officers, complete with an insignia.

The uniform included protective gloves because the unit’s members were tasked with breaking up violent disputes, said defense attorney Martin Cohen, who represented Cpl. Davon Telp.

“The gloves were used as evidence against them,” Cohen said. “The state gave it to them and then used it to say this was evidence of bad acts.”

Corrections department spokesman Mark Vernarelli said the decision not to prosecute comes from “the highest level of the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office” but that corrections investigators “are fully prepared to move forward.”

“If the charges are dismissed in this matter, the Department will review all options, to include administrative action as dictated by personnel regulations, the Correctional Officers Bill of Rights, the law, and guidance from the Department’s legal counsel,” Vernarelli said in an email.

Vernarelli said 20 of 25 of the officers indicted remain employed by the state corrections department.

The decision to drop the charges was first reported by the Baltimore Banner.

Defense attorney James Sweeting III, who represented Cpl. Corey Thiess, said he appreciates that authorities are seeking to hold law enforcement accountable, but that the charges were unwarranted.

Sweeting said the decision to charge someone with a crime needs to be made “excruciatingly carefully” because of the ramifications of allegations on the person.

“You lose careers,” he said. “Families are broken up.”

Telp wrote a letter to a judge to explain how the charges had impacted his life, according to Cohen.

He has been unemployed since his arrest and completely drained his savings and retirement accounts to make ends meet, Cohen said. Still, Telp’s mother had to take out a loan against her retirement to help with his mortgage.

Cohen said Telp’s son and namesake endured bullying at school because of his father’s charges. Telp had to begin taking medication to cope with the anxiety, he said.

“It’s destroyed his life for the last three years and probably taken off another 15 to 20 years because of the stress,” Cohen said.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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