A judge questioned the credibility of a Baltimore Police detective. What does that mean for his cases?

Published 5/24/2023 5:30 a.m. EDT

Photo collage showing male detective wearing police badge next to a microphone and blurry image of courtroom broken up by holes.

Inside Courtroom 309 of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse, Baltimore Police Detective Alexandros Haziminas testified in a case that a judge threw out after raising questions about his credibility.

Hours later, Haziminas was back on duty. He was operating a CitiWatch camera at the intersection of North Howard and West Fayette streets and reported information that led police to arrest a man on a charge of possession with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance.

And less than two weeks after that happened, the Board of Estimates approved a $250,000 settlement in an unrelated federal lawsuit against Haziminas that alleged he assaulted a man and then taunted him in the hospital.

According to the Maryland Judiciary Case Search, Haziminas is listed as a participant in eight additional cases that are pending in Baltimore Circuit Court. His situation reflects an ongoing debate about when questions surrounding the past of a police officer should affect him or her in the future.

It’s unclear, though, if the remarks that the judge made will affect any of Haziminas’ other cases and whether the state must disclose that information in the future.

“It’s not black and white,” said Brandon Mead, a defense attorney in Baltimore, who added that he believes that prosecutors should err on the side of justice. “It’s one of those things that I think is very case-specific.”

The trial and the $250,000 settlement

Haziminas ended up on the witness stand on March 27 in Baltimore Circuit Court because he had reported that he was the victim of a crime while off-duty.

On June 25, 2022, Haziminas testified, he was driving home after working the 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift when a man cut him off before the intersection of North Liberty and West Fayette streets.

Next, Haziminas said, he rolled down his window at the red light and asked the other driver several times if he was OK. That’s when the man, he testified, reached down, picked up a gray bag and pulled out a handgun. “Do you understand what can happen?” he asked.

So Haziminas reached for his personal weapon “just in case anything escalated.” The light turned green, and the other driver took off.

Haziminas testified that he took steps including calling out the license plate number over his police radio, notifying supervisors and looking up the photo of the registered owner of the car. But Haziminas faced questions from the man’s attorney, Andrew Alperstein, on cross-examination.

Circuit Judge Cynthia Jones threw out the charges of first- and second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and use of a handgun during the commission of a crime of violence instead of sending them to the jury. She expressed concerns that Haziminas, a more than nine-year veteran, made himself a witness in his own case and described the incident as a “he said, he said” that came down to “the credibility of the only person who’s testified this far.”

“And what makes me question his credibility is this,” Jones said. “If he believed there was a gun in the car, it seems to me as a veteran detective of the Baltimore Police Department,” she added, “anything different would’ve happened.”

For instance, Jones said, an investigation. If law enforcement had taken steps such as applying for search and seizure warrants, she said, that could have “all corroborated the testimony of the veteran detective whose task at this juncture is to investigate cases on a regular basis.”

Jones also noted earlier that Haziminas “failed to acknowledge” that he cut off the other driver. That’s despite surveillance video showing him cutting off the driver.

Less than two weeks after the trial, the Board of Estimates on April 5 approved spending $250,000 to settle an unrelated lawsuit against him in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The lawsuit alleged that Haziminas assaulted a man who was at a birthday party at Mosaic Nightclub and Lounge in Power Plant Live! at the Inner Harbor in 2016 and then harassed and intimidated him in the hospital with remarks including, “He ain’t nobody. He lives in the Freddie Gray neighborhood.”

The Baltimore Police Department investigated the complaint and exonerated him. The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office declined to bring charges, Deputy City Solicitor Stephen Salsbury said.

Neither Haziminas nor his attorney, Christopher Jeffries, could be reached for comment.

“We should not be at the point where it has to be the judge that is saying this officer is not credible”

It’s unclear what effect the comments that the judge made about Haziminas’ credibility will have in his other cases.

The Baltimore Banner reviewed the statements of charges in the active cases that online court records show Haziminas is a participant.

In four cases, Haziminas was operating a CitiWatch camera and conducting surveillance. In another case, he helped interrogate a man who was a suspect in a shooting and fled from police on a scooter, court documents show.

Defense attorneys who represent people in those cases did not seem to be aware of the judge’s recent comments questioning his credibility as a witness.

Luke Woods, a defense attorney in Upper Marlboro, represents a man who’s facing charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and related offenses.

In that case, Haziminas was conducting surveillance using a CitiWatch camera pointed at a BP gas station on Dolfield Avenue near West Cold Spring Lane in West Baltimore.

“I find it necessary for my case to investigate this now to see what the facts and circumstances of what you just told me,” Woods said.

During an event at the University of Baltimore School of Law, Maryland Public Defender Natasha Dartigue brought up Haziminas — though she did not use his name.

“We should not be at the point where it has to be the judge that is saying this officer is not credible,” Dartigue said. “That determination should be made long before the person comes to court, even before the person is arrested.”

In a statement, James Bentley, a spokesperson for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, said, “The Judge’s statements are noted, and we will continue to apply an objective standard in considering whether this or any other officer should be called as a witness to testify.”

Bentley said the office will be publishing an updated list of police officers it will not call to testify within the next three months.

Lindsey Eldridge, a spokesperson for the Baltimore Police Department, said in an email that there is no open case or misconduct investigation into Haziminas related to what happened at trial.

“It’s in the eye of the beholder”

In Maryland, the rules for discovery indicate that the state must provide all information — whether it’s admissible in court —that “tends to exculpate the defendant or negate or mitigate the defendant’s guilt or punishment.”

That’s along with information that tends to impeach state witnesses — including police officers.

Natalie Finegar, a defense attorney in Baltimore who previously worked for more than 20 years in the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, said she feels that the judge’s statements about Haziminas’ credibility should be disclosed. But she said that information can sometimes be difficult to use in court.

Finegar said the state sends an email containing what it considers its mandatory disclosures. Defense attorneys have to file a motion to compel if they believe that there is additional information. But, she said, “If you don’t know what you should be asking for, how do you ask for it?”

Defense attorneys, she said, network and exchange information about police officers.

“Because we’re not necessarily going to get it from the system,” Finegar said. “And that’s a problem.”

On the one hand, Finegar said, she understands that there might be allegations against a police officer that should not automatically mean they are never again called as a witness. At the other end of the spectrum, she brought up the Gun Track Task Force, a corrupt plainclothes unit whose members robbed people, planted evidence and sold drugs, which resulted in the integrity of hundreds of cases being called into question.

That’s part of what Finegar said she feels led to the scandal. “If there is a question of an officer’s credibility, and it’s buried, and it’s not opened up and aired out, it kind of could embolden a bad cop to continue,” she said.

Meanwhile, Bradley MacFee, a defense attorney in Baltimore, said he did not believe that the judge’s comments had implications for other cases.

“It’s nothing,” MacFee said. “It’s just her explaining the decision she made.”

Judges making individualized assessments about the credibility of police officers can have significant consequences in the criminal justice system, said Jeremy Eldridge, a defense attorney in Baltimore. He is not related to the police spokesperson.

Eldridge said he feels that it’s not necessary for judges to do so unless testimony is “so dubious and obviously false to bring the court to a point where making that individualized analysis is necessary.” That’s the exception, he said, “surely not the rule.”

He said he’s not advocating for the court to protect bad police officers. Instead, Eldridge said, judges might not have all the information to make such a conclusory statement. “When the judge blows that whistle, there’s no red flag we can throw in there for instant replay,” he said. “Those words have been spoken out into the ether.”

Eldridge said he interpreted what the judge stated as indicating that “she was not given evidence that corroborated the accusation and that it didn’t meet the legal standard.”

Katie Kronick, an assistant professor of law at the University of Baltimore School of Law and director of the Criminal Defense and Advocacy Clinic, noted the judge’s statements are not the clearest.

Kronick said she thinks that the judge’s observations are relevant in future cases involving Haziminas.

She said she could see an assistant state’s attorney making an argument that the judge did not specifically find that he was lying on the witness stand. Meanwhile, a defense attorney could contend that the sole issue was a credibility determination.

Though it seemingly is clear what information the state must disclose, she said, “it’s in the eye of the beholder.”

“Prosecutors should be taking it seriously,” Kronick said, “regardless of disclosure obligations.”

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