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Absent With Cause

Retired Police Officer Sues Commissioner, Faces Termination for Corruption

Uli Loskot
TELL IT TO THE JUDGE: Former Baltimore police officer Jacqueline Folio has asked the courts to settle her dispute with the city.

By Van Smith | Posted 5/11/2005

Jacqueline Folio believes she is no longer a cop, having filed retirement papers on March 17 under orders from Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Leonard Hamm (“Cop Out,” April 6). BPD, though, believes she is still on the force because Hamm later rescinded his retirement order—though not until after Folio filed for retirement. So, in a lawsuit filed April 29, Folio asked the U.S. District Court to settle the dispute. Named as defendants are Hamm and two former BPD lawyers: Sean Malone, now the city’s labor commissioner, and Karen Kruger, who works as an attorney for the Harford County government.

On May 2, one business day after Folio sued, BPD held an administrative hearing on corruption charges against Folio, after months of delay. Folio claims in her lawsuit that one such delay, prompted by Hamm’s order for her to retire one business day before a scheduled March 14 hearing, was designed to deprive her of the opportunity to present a strong defense. This time, though, the hearing went on without Folio or her lawyer there to mount a defense. Thus, BPD’s lawyer—Kruger, on loan from Harford County and fresh from being served as a defendant in Folio’s lawsuit—made her case without opposition.

Thus, Folio—who spent 15 of her 43 years at BPD—finds herself in the unusual position of facing termination after she retired. She’s now busy preparing for a second career as a house painter. “I’m in the process of getting my own business started,” she says. “I’m done with law enforcement.”

BPD spokesman Matt Jablow says that during the hearing Kruger told the three-member hearing board that Folio perjured herself in order to falsely arrest a suspect, Leon Burgess, during a March 2003 police-corruption sting. The accusations were the same Folio had been acquitted of in Baltimore City Circuit Court in December 2003. Jablow says the trial board ruled that Folio is not retired, upheld 15 of the 18 charges against her, and recommended termination for 12 of them. As of press time, Hamm had not yet taken the board’s advice, though Folio expects him to fire her.

“I was told that they put the trial board on today without us there,” Folio said in a phone message to City Paper shortly after the May 2 hearing. “The hits just keep on coming,” she added. Two days later, when CP contacted her for comment about the outcome, she hadn’t yet been notified by BPD that charges were sustained for termination.

“I can’t believe they went through with it,” she said. “And I’m surprised they didn’t find me guilty on all of them. I’m sure [Hamm] is going to sign off on it. I mean, it’s what they all wanted.”

The dispute arose from a police integrity sting conducted on March 27, 2003. The operation, designed by the police Internal Affairs Division, was intended to catch an officer failing to properly turn in abandoned contraband—in this case, suspected drugs and money. The items were placed in a bag under a bush next to Patterson Park, and an Internal Affairs detective called Baltimore City 911 to report a felony in progress: In the call, he said that a person matching a detailed description was in the area, dealing drugs and keeping the stash under the bush.

Folio responded to the scene and spotted a young man leaving the area who fit the description given by the dispatcher. She recovered the bag from under the bush while her colleagues collared the suspect, Burgess, for possession with intent to distribute drugs. Folio proceeded to follow standard procedure, doing the requisite paperwork on the arrest and submitting the contraband to evidence control. But in her sworn statement of probable cause to arrest Burgess, Folio wrote that she saw him “place” the bag under the bush. Since Internal Affairs, not Burgess, had stashed the bag there, Folio’s dubious statement was the basis for immediately suspending her on suspicion of perjury and misconduct.

The falsely arrested suspect, Leon Burgess, spent more than eight hours in police custody for a crime that was faked by the Internal Affairs Division, whose detectives purposefully called in a description matching his. In the wee hours of the morning on March 28, 2003, after being reread his Miranda rights as if he were still charged with a felony, Burgess was interrogated by Sean Malone, then BPD’s chief of special projects, and Internal Affairs detectives—all of whom knew Burgess was innocent. After Burgess’ release that morning, and before he testified against Folio during the December 2003 trial when she was acquitted, he was arrested for several crimes, including violent ones. The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, which was pursuing the charges against Folio, declined to prosecute Burgess for any of the alleged crimes.

Folio believes that Internal Affairs’ police work, not hers, was reprehensible, and that the accusations against her were made in an effort to distract attention from the real crime: that Internal Affairs’ sting was designed to result in the false arrest of an innocent civilian. In asking the U.S. District Court to determine whether or not she is retired, Folio’s lawsuit accuses Hamm, Malone, and Kruger of conspiring to remove her from her job “without due process of law”—that is, without a trial-board hearing, where Folio and her attorney, Clarke Ahlers, would have aired publicly the department’s culpability in Burgess’ arrest.

Jablow says BPD has no comment about the lawsuit. Folio, though, is adamant that she’s retired, not fired. “If I was still a police officer,” she asks, “then why the hell wasn’t I . . . charged with being absent without leave? I haven’t been to work since the commissioner ordered me to retire in March.”

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