A judge has thrown out the criminal case against a Baltimore Police officer who had been accused of grouping a female colleague, ruling that the allegations, even if true, did not constitute misconduct in office.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Videtta A. Brown on July 21 granted a motion to dismiss the case against Officer Walter Wilson, a more than 22-year veteran.
“Just because a police officer is working and is on duty — and does something that very well might be illegal — does not mean that it is in the exercise of their duty or within the color of law,” Brown said.
On Oct. 20, 2021, Wilson responded to a call just before 1:45 a.m. on West Mulberry Street near Mount Holly Street in Allendale for a person who had died.
He had been standing on the front porch of a home when he put his hand on the shoulder of a female police officer, turned her around so her back was facing him and groped her, prosecutors alleged. The interaction was captured on his body camera.
Wilson walked past her two days later in the parking lot of the Southwestern District and remarked to a male police officer that she “got those buns.” She later sent Wilson a text message stating that she felt uncomfortable about the unwanted touching and unsolicited sexual comment, prosecutors claimed.
That’s when, prosecutors reported, Wilson replied, “I only made a joke about buns because the other officers said something about it.” She later reported the conduct and transferred to the Eastern District, prosecutors asserted.
In the motion to dismiss, Chaz Ball, Wilson’s attorney, wrote that the indictment failed to support the charge of misconduct in office because the allegations were “purely personal in nature” and not “in the exercise of the duties of his office or while acting under color of his office as the law prohibits.”
Ball argued in court that the charge applies to the use of a power vested by the state in an unlawful way.
“It’s not merely, just because someone’s a politician and then they’re speeding or it was a DUI or something, that doesn’t make it misconduct in office by virtue of their occupation,” Ball said. “It has to be a misuse of that occupation, of that power, to constitute misconduct in office.”
Brown brought up a hypothetical scenario in which the police stopped her for drinking and driving.
“I’m a judge, whether I’m in this room or I’m in my car,” Brown said. “Are you saying I cannot be charged with misconduct in office for a DWI or a DUI because that was not me abusing my power?”
“But if I were to say to the officer, ‘Hey, you know I’m a judge, and so you shouldn’t charge me for DUI, or you should be careful,’ is that when the tables turn against me?” she added.
“That’s the distinction,” Ball replied. “Because you’re using the power of that office.”
But Assistant State’s Attorney Ernest Reitz noted that Wilson and the female police officer were both in uniform and working at the time.
“It’s disingenuous to say that whatever happened, he wasn’t doing it under his authority as a police officer,” Reitz said. “Because he was working as a police officer.”
“So you’re saying that whatever an officer does when he’s working, that’s misconduct?” Brown asked. “Whatever he does — he or she does?”
“If it’s an illegal act,” Reitz responded, “yes.”
If the statute of limitations had not expired for second-degree assault and fourth-degree sexual offense, Reitz said, those charges could have also applied in the case.
The Baltimore Banner is not identifying the female police officer because she reported that she’s the survivor of a sexual crime. She could not be reached for comment.
In an email, Detective Vernon Davis, a police spokesperson, said Wilson remains suspended with pay.
In a statement, James Bentley, a spokesperson for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, said it respectfully disagrees with the ruling and has referred the case to the Maryland Office of the Attorney General’s Criminal Appeals Division.
At a news conference, State’s Attorney Ivan Bates had discussed the indictments against Wilson as well as Sgt. Larry Worsley in an unrelated case, calling the allegations against them “unacceptable for anyone in our city, but especially for our law enforcement officers.”