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Judge acquits 3rd Baltimore officer of misconduct

In his first trial as Baltimore City state’s attorney, Gregg L. Bernstein convinced the jury but not the judge.

On Tuesday — one day after a city jury found two Baltimore policemen guilty of misconduct in office for picking up two teenagers in West Baltimore and then abandoning one across town and the other in Howard County — Judge Timothy J. Doory found that the third officer in the van had not acted criminally.

David B. Irwin, the Towson lawyer who represented the acquitted detective in the unusual hybrid bench-jury trial, said Doory scolded his client for his involvement in the “cowboy” episode but drew a crucial distinction between the officers’ conduct.

“He certainly didn’t condone the activity, but as I had hoped all along, he was able to slice and separate Greg Hellen from the criminal activity,” Irwin said.

Hellen, Tyrone Francis and Milton Smith were all charged with the same seven counts, including kidnapping.

Francis, 30, and Smith, 32, opted for a jury trial; Hellen, 31, put his fate in Doory’s hands.

The officers’ defense at trial was that the boys were dropped off away from home so they wouldn’t be suspected of collaborating with the police.

Following Tuesday afternoon’s verdict, the top prosecutor took issue with Doory’s parsing of responsibility in the case.

“[A]t minimum, we believe this defendant was also guilty as an aider and abettor,” Bernstein said of Hellen, according to an emailed statement.

A spokesman for the Baltimore City Police Department declined to comment on the result, citing the internal investigation into the May 4, 2009, incident that will resume after the criminal cases are completed.

Francis and Smith are scheduled to be sentenced June 1. Their attorneys had predicted a mistrial when Doory allowed the cases to be tried together and they vociferously objected at points throughout the 10-day proceeding, so appeals are likely.

The family of one of the teenagers, Michael B. Johnson Jr., who was left shoeless near Patapsco State Park, has filed a civil suit against the officers. Trial in that case is scheduled for August.