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The Nose

Copping Out?

Posted 2/7/2001

Baltimore City Police investigators, with the help of the FBI, have administered polygraph exams to more than a dozen officers assigned to the Integrity Unit of the department's Internal Affairs Division in an effort to get to the bottom of the Christmas Eve burglary of the unit's since-abandoned Essex office. But, according to sources familiar with the probe, at least one member of the unit hasn't been tested: the detective who headed the sting operation that led to corruption charges against city police Officer Brian Sewell. The detective, sources say, refused to take the polygraph.Investigation of the Dec. 24 break-in at the Integrity Unit's hideaway at the Back River Neck sewage-treatment plant has focused on the unit members themselves, and on a possible link to the Sewell case, in which the patrol officer was accused of planting drugs on a suspect. Files related to the sting operation were destroyed during the burglary--the only Integrity Unit records to be so tampered with.

The detective on that case had been removed from the Integrity Unit about a month before the burglary due to an unrelated domestic incident. His police powers were suspended Nov. 25 and he was detailed to the department's Central Records office, according to police sources. For at least the past month, sources says, he has not been at work but been on medical leave for stress. Police would not comment on the detective's refusal to take the polygraph. Such tests are used by law-enforcement agencies in an effort to determine whether a person is telling the truth, but the results are inadmissible in court because they are not necessarily accurate.

In the wake of the burglary, State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy dropped criminal charges against Sewell because, she claims, the destruction of records related to the case compromised the prosecution. The officer still faces possible departmental sanction.

Sewell was arrested in October as part of the sting, in which Integrity Unit investigators placed fake drugs on a West Baltimore park bench to see if police who found them handled them properly. Police allege that one officer took the "drugs" and gave them to Sewell, who then planted them on a burglary suspect he subsequently arrested. Sewell has denied any wrongdoing, and sources close to the case say questions about who handled the drugs both before and after he made the arrest raise questions about the sting's integrity.

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