The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Sewell Case Shows Cops Are Crooked

Feb 5, 2001

Last week Baltimore’s state’s attorney dropped criminal charges against Brian Sewell, the cop accused of planting evidence on an innocent man.

The Sewell case raises not only the question of one dirty cop; it shows that he is just the tip of the iceberg of police corruption. He had been photographed by the police internal investigation unit in activities which led to the planting of evidence on an innocent man in one of Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods. And, it has now come out, while Sewell may have planted the drugs, at least one other cop, if not more, was involved. The secret investigators had photos of all this.

But, on Christmas eve, the "secret" location, known only to the internal investigators within the police force, was broken into. What was taken was the evidence against cops involved in this case and against at least one other cop accused of crimes. All of this just reinforced what most people know anyway: the police frame up innocent people on a regular basis. They want convictions, not "justice."

In Baltimore and every other big city, plenty of people know from first-hand experience that the police make up testimony. In poorer neighborhoods, plenty of people have seen police brutality.

These events have already had an impact on what happens in the courts. As soon as Sewell’s arrest was announced in October, five drug cases that depended on his testimony, were immediately dropped. The state’s attorney’s office said they would look into his previous cases that had led to convictions.

Recently, juries have confirmed that they don’t believe what the police say. In one case, a juror said the police just picked up the first homeless man they saw to pin a murder on. In the other case, a man fleeing at high speed struck a police car with his SUV, killing the officer. The jury would not convict the man of murder based on what the police said. As the state’s attorney put it, Baltimore juries believe "the police lie, manufacture evidence and are not to be trusted."

In several cases of police brutality, there have been small protests. In one case, the witnesses disputed what the cops said. Their protest drew the attention of local politicians, who could see they had a potential problem on their hands.

When O’Malley took office as mayor last year, he did so promising he would be tough on crime. He brought in a new police commissioner from New York, who not only instituted so-called zero tolerance on crime; the new commissioner also began a sting operation to root out crooked cops. After all, one of every four Baltimore police officers surveyed last year, said they believed that more than a quarter of the department "is involved in stealing money or drugs from drug dealers." And they are the ones who should know!

So if officials expected they would turn up a crooked cop stealing drugs, they got more than they bargained for–at least two cops shown in photographs taking and planting evidence.

The police internal investigation in Baltimore could turn out to be another scandal like the one in the Rampart division in Los Angeles, which, as it unfolded, just demonstrated more and more how corrupt the police are.

This kind of scandal gets in the way of the police keeping order for the ruling class, an order they impose with lies and brutality all the time against the working class, especially its poorest layers.

Right now, the mayor and the state’s attorney may be squabbling over how to handle such cop cases, but they both want to keep careful control over a situation which exposes to public view the likelihood that dozens, maybe hundreds of cops, have dirty hands.