Lawyers Find Fault With Pr. George's Drug Arrests
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Prosecuting a suspect who was arrested while holding a package containing hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of marijuana might seem like a slam-dunk.
But in Prince George's County, two such defendants, initially charged with felonies, were recently convicted of misdemeanors. Another was acquitted at trial after testifying that he thought a package he picked up contained a vacuum cleaner.
The arrests occurred months before a drug investigation that led a SWAT team to raid the home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo this summer -- an operation that drew wide attention in part because the family's two Labrador retrievers were shot and killed. Nine days after the raid, authorities said Calvo and his wife had nothing to do with a package of marijuana that was delivered to their home.
Defense lawyers who practice in the county said authorities appear to arrest and charge anyone who picks up a package containing marijuana or other drugs without conducting a further investigation.
The lawyers said additional investigation is necessary in part because drug traffickers sometimes send packages to unwitting recipients and then intercept them, or at least plan to, before delivery. The Calvo incident is one such case, police said.
"It's the general rule: Whoever picks up the package is charged," lawyer Theresa L. Moore said.
Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, said prosecutors do the best they can with difficult cases. "Drug interdiction cases can be hard to prosecute, but leaving kilos and kilos of drugs on the street are not options law enforcement can afford," he said.
Maj. Andy Ellis, a county police spokesman, declined to discuss specific investigative methods, in part because the department expects to be sued over the Calvo raid.
In general, however, he disputed the idea that residents would be charged simply because they picked up a package of drugs. "If we're going to charge someone, we believe that person would have been the intended recipient," Ellis said. "You'll notice Mayor Calvo was never charged."
In one of the three recent cases, police accused Mamady M. Kaba of picking up a package containing 17 pounds of marijuana, worth more than $154,000, from the doorstep of his cousin's home in Bladensburg. Under a plea agreement, Kaba was convicted of a misdemeanor and received probation.
Titus Barnes walked into a UPS facility in Landover, picked up a package containing 30 pounds of marijuana, worth more than $272,000, and was arrested by county narcotics detectives as he walked out the door. Barnes was acquitted by a jury.
Marquis C. Dorsey walked up to a porch in College Park and picked up a package containing 25 pounds of marijuana, worth more than $254,000, as narcotics detectives from a Prince George's-Montgomery County task force watched. A jury convicted Dorsey of simple possession, a misdemeanor, but acquitted him of possession with intent to distribute.