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Man defends from warrantless plainclothes police

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12/21/2005 Mobtown Beat | Law & Jurisprudence

Mobtown Beat | Law & Jurisprudence
Breakin’ All the Rules
Prosecutor Drops Case Against Man Who Says Plainclothes Police Tried To Force Way Into His Home Without Warrant

By Edward Ericson Jr.
It was 28 seconds past 7:45 p.m. on Aug.18 when the 911 dispatcher took the call from Sascha Wagner. “There’s someone breaking into the house,” she yelled at the 911 operator, giving the address of the home she shares with David Scheper on the 800 block of West Lombard Street. “Send police now!”

Moments before, Scheper had opened the door to two strangers who then tried to force their way in. Scheper, who is 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, slammed and locked the door on the would-be intruders, but he was in a panic as they smashed the glass in the 100-year-old door. He grabbed his 12-gauge shotgun and “was racking the slide over and over,” he recalls.

“I didn’t have any ammo for it, I’m racking the shotgun, telling them to get out. I’m not sure they’re in yet.” He ran to his basement in search of a usable weapon to defend himself and his girlfriend. “I was scared for her safety more than mine,” Scheper says.

In the basement, Scheper grabbed a CZ-52 semiautomatic. “I have this piece-of-junk Czechoslovakian pistol,” he says. “I put a magazine in it, racked the slide back. I was trying to check to see if there was a round in the chamber and I couldn’t rack the slide . . . so I was fighting it. The gun was jammed, and I was trying to get it operable. It accidentally went off into the floor of my basement.”

And with that, police say, Scheper committed the crime for which he was charged in Baltimore City Circuit Court: Discharge of a Firearm in Baltimore City. He faced up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Prosecutors dropped Scheper’s case Dec. 2.

The intruders? They got in. They took $1,440 in cash Scheper says he withdrew from his bank account in order to buy a used pickup truck. They hit a 70-year-old art-deco-style metal desk with an ax. They took 18 of Scheper’s guns—mostly inoperable antiques, he says—and some gun-shaped props he had built for movies. “They threatened to blow up my safe,” Scheper says, so he opened it for them. They face no criminal charges.

The intruders were William T. Bristol and Antwyne R. Jones, Baltimore Police Department detectives with the Organized Crime Division.

They had gone to Scheper’s house as part of a drug investigation, according to the Statement of Probable Cause filed in court as part of the case against Scheper. Scheper says the detectives were looking for a housemate he had evicted some three weeks before, who in turn was connected to a man they had arrested. Police officers stayed in Scheper’s house for hours and left three empty pizza boxes there after turning the place upside-down, according to photos that Scheper says were taken just afterward.

Scheper, a welder who often works 12 hours per day making sets and props for movie production companies, had no drugs other than some prescription pills. He had nothing illegal at all. He had no prior police record.

Police added Scheper’s guns to a cache of weapons they had seized earlier in the day from a garage in Highlandtown and a house in Hampden and displayed them for the media. “Two men arrested, 69 firearms seized” was the headline in The Sun on Aug. 20. Among the guns, the newspaper reported, were a “mini-Uzi, a MAC/10 with silencer, and a pistol designed for shooting big game.”

Police charged Anthony Felicetti of the 1300 block of Delwood Avenue in Hampden with multiple counts of possession of a firearm by a felon (those charges are still pending). Scheper’s name was not released by the police; the raid on his house was unrelated to the Felicetti arrest, but the weapons were deemed newsworthy. “You don’t see these types of weapons on the street,” Baltimore Police Col. Anthony Barksdale told The Sun. “This is strange.”

About the raid on Scheper’s home, the police said this, according to The Sun: “As detectives entered the home, a shot was fired from inside. It was not clear whether it was fired at the detectives.”

That’s not the same story as the one filed by police in support of Scheper’s arrest (Wagner was held for several hours as well, without being charged). In the Statement of Probable Cause, P.T. Geare of the police department’s Southern District says the two detectives knocked on Scheper’s door, identified themselves as police officers, and asked to speak to him. “Mr. Scheper then quickly closed the door, locked it and ran into the home out of the detectives’ sight,” Geare says in the statement. “After a short time a loud noise came from the dwelling which these detectives believed to be a gun shot. . . . At this point, due to the detectives believing that they heard a gun shot and fearing that evidence may be destroyed or someone may be injured [the detectives] attempted to make entry.”

In fact, the police had no warrant to enter or search the home when they first arrived (the actual warrant came at 9:50, about two hours after the search began), and Scheper was within his rights to refuse them entry. Scheper says he thinks the police tried to force their way in immediately as a matter of procedure, so they could later claim they were granted entry by him. He says the plainclothes detectives did not identify themselves as police until after they started bashing in his door.

“If they had actually just asked me questions, there’s no reason that I wouldn’t have been cooperative,” Scheper says.

In fact, the detectives did not break down the door. Scheper opened it after the 911 dispatcher told him the police had arrived. That’s when he was arrested. “Got Suspects on ground,” reads a notation in the 911 dispatch record. It was 50 seconds after 7:52 p.m., less than eight minutes after the 911 call came in.

Scheper’s mother came shortly after the detectives arrived to see if she could help, as did some of Scheper’s friends. Scheper, Wagner, and Scheper’s mother say the police search began immediately and was a shabby ordeal, with police threatening Scheper’s friends and then leaving the house with the door wide open, in violation of police procedure. But the criminal charge irritates him most, Scheper says, particularly since the police version of events did not correspond with what he knew had happened.

Wagner says she attempted to get a copy of the 911 call, but that getting those records was difficult. “I went down there [to police headquarters] twice and sat there for five or six hours until they sent me away,” she says. “Finally they gave it up.”

Scheper’s lawyer, John Fones, says the 911 records were not particularly difficult to get. But he had to fight to get the 911 tape admitted as evidence. The judge agreed to allow it, provisionally, the day before the state dropped the case.

On Dec. 2, Scheper’s ninth trip to court, Assistant State’s Attorney Douglas Guidorizzi told the judge that the state would not prosecute the matter. Guidorizzi referred questions about the state’s decision to spokesman Joe Sviatko, who said, “after further review by our office, we didn’t believe it could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, so in the interest of justice we nolle prossed [refused to pursue] it today.”

Attempts to reach Geare at the Southern District were unsuccessful, and police spokespeople did not respond to several phone calls and two detailed e-mails asking questions about the incident.

“When we did get the [911] tape, as is often the case, it was pretty revealing,” Fones says. “It verified my client’s version of the incident.”

Scheper says the police search and attempted break-in did about $3,700 of damage to his property. He’s trying to get his guns, personal records, and $1,440 in cash back from the police department, a process he says he thinks will take about a month.

He does not plan to ask that his arrest record be expunged—yet. “To get the expungement they make you sign a waiver promising not to sue them,” he explains.

That is a promise Scheper will not make.

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