Monday, March 25, 2013

Liars are always ready to take oaths.

Baltimore is no longer the set of "The Wire, " where fictional police (pronounced locally as "poh-leece") lie and manipulate their way to an arrest.  Or isn't it? On March 24, 2013, Justin George, of The Baltimore Sun, reported on the alleged police misconduct of a Baltimore City cop, Kendall Richburg.   And it is script-worthy, indeed. As a lawyer, I laugh only to keep from crying.

Mr. George chronicles the wrongful conviction of an alleged drug buyer convicted on Officer Richburg's lie about actually observing the "hand-to-hand" drug purchase. This story details some pretty awful police conduct, and it would be appalling enough, on its own, even without the full back story of Officer Richburg's misdeeds.

Officer Richburg, who was arrested in January 2013, has already pleaded guilty to armed drug trafficking charges in federal court on March 11, 2013.  The statement of facts reads like your favorite television episode:

According to his plea agreement, from June 2011 through October 2012, Richburg, who was assigned to the Violent Crimes Impact Section in the Northwestern District of the Baltimore Police Department, conspired with a street-level drug trafficker to distribute heroin. Richburg’s co-conspirator was a registered confidential informant with the Baltimore Police Department. The co-conspirator sold drugs in the Pimlico area of Northwest Baltimore. Richburg provided information to the co-conspirator that permitted him to sell drugs without interference from law enforcement, telling the co-conspirator on a near daily basis when it was “safe” to go out to sell drugs. In return, the co-conspirator provided Richburg with information about his drug customers so that Richburg could arrest them. Richburg paid his co-conspirator with official Baltimore Police Department funds for providing the information that resulted in the arrest of the drug customers. Richburg sometimes gave the co-conspirator back some of the drugs seized from the drug purchasers so that the co-conspirator could re-sell the drugs. Richburg falsified the arrest documents to eliminate the co-conspirator’s involvement, often falsely stating that Richburg had witnessed a drug transaction.
Well, and if that isn't enough, Officer Richburg coordinated and directed armed robbery with his informant:

Richburg and the co-conspirator were also overheard discussing the “planting” of evidence and arranging an armed robbery. For example, on September 2, 2012, Richburg and the co-conspirator discussed having the co-conspirator plant a gun in an unlicensed cab, then having Richburg pull over and arrest the cab driver on a gun violation and pay the co-conspirator $350 to $400. On October 9, 2012, Richburg, armed with his service weapon, searched a person, without probable cause, and located a large amount of cash. The victim told Richburg that he had just received his paycheck. Richburg contacted his co-conspirator and arranged for the co-conspirator, whom Richburg knew was armed, to rob the victim, identifying where the victim was located.
A real "bad cop" routine, isn't it? And as the consequences of his bad actions become more widely known, it has called into question the legitimacy of every criminal prosecution arising from a Richburg arrest. His cases are being investigated by the Office of the Public Defender, the State's Attorney's Office, the Police Integrity Unit, and the United States Attorney's Office.

Actor Jack Nicholson once suggested that there are only two persons in your life you should lie to, "...your girlfriend and the police." And it's funny because the inverse proposition is not supposed to be true--the police shouldn't lie to you, or about you to obtain a conviction. From a lawyer's point of view, if a finding of probable cause leading to an arrest was based on a fiction uttered or written by Officer Richburg, it will be as if the crime was not commited. There can be no guilty finding based on false statements. This will call many convictions and plea deals into question.  Was Officer Richburg involved in your case, or the case of a loved one?