Before the day was out, police had a pile of evidence and a suspect who was one of their own - Officer John Baird.
Painting Parkwood yellow in an effort to get back at his estranged wife is one of 23 formal complaints lodged against Jack Baird during his checkered 14- year career as a Philadelphia policeman. Along with five other 39th District officers, Baird awaits sentencing in federal court after admitting that he spent years beating and threatening citizens, breaking into their homes, stealing their cash, putting drugs in their pockets, framing them, and lying fluently to cover his tracks.
Throughout those years, Baird consistently received excellent performance evaluations from his supervisors. He was awarded 15 commendations.
Mayor Rendell and Police Commissioner Richard Neal have said that the expanding federal search for corruption in the ranks shows how zealous the department is about policing itself. A close look at the career of Jack Baird raises serious questions about that.
Its inability to stop the sloppy police work of Baird and other corrupt officers has undermined the entire criminal justice system in Philadelphia. It has created a climate in which it is no longer possible to tell the guilty
from the innocent. This isn't just a crisis for civil libertarians. Law-and- order advocates have equal reason for concern. Because innocent people have been wrongly punished, some guilty will go free.
The earliest complaint on record about Baird dates to 1983, six years after he joined the force. Most describe behavior similar to the case that finally brought him down. Each was an early warning that Baird was a rogue cop, a man whose personal life and professional life were out of control. Each complaint was investigated by the department's Internal Affairs Division (IAD), which is charged with policing the police (and which, for a portion of Baird's career, was headed by Neal). With the exception of one 30-day suspension, each complaint against Baird was dismissed with the words "not sustained."
This foot-high stack of IAD reports doesn't just tell the story of one bad cop. It's the story of a bad cop in a blind police department.
"He was in all kinds of trouble, going from one jackpot to the next," said one high-ranking city police official who asked not to be named. "I know some guys who go off the deep end if they have one complaint against them. Most guys never have more than two or three in a career. For some reason Baird just kept falling through the cracks. It makes me mad as hell. There's no way a guy like that should have been able to stay on the street. You'd have to say a lot of people fumbled the ball pretty badly, over a long period of time. The department screwed up pretty good."
Baird didn't hide his excesses. He was a big, blond, hot-headed, charismatic officer with a drinking problem and a penchant for trouble. His contempt for citizens was well-known to other officers in the 39th District. On the streets he was infamous. People knew him as "Blondie," and there is hardly a soul in those crowded black North Philadelphia blocks who doesn't remember him. It's likely that for every one of his victims with enough nerve and faith in the system to file a formal complaint, there were several who didn't bother.
Those who did had their faith in justice dashed.
"Baird and cops like him prey on vulnerable people who aren't in a position to complain," said Kevin J. Gallagher, a paralegal who represents the city in labor arbitration cases and fought Baird's eventual effort to rejoin the force after he was fired in 1991. "That's why you can't rely on the passive, case-by-case approach of IAD to effectively root out corruption. Most of these people won't come in. In those rare instances when they do, they know it's going to boil down to their word against the cop's."
If a cop kicked you around, stole your money or planted drugs in your pocket, it made sense to just play along. Better to plead to fictional possession and accept probation or a fine than take a stand in court, where an officer like Baird would gladly accept overtime pay to lie about you under oath. The penalty for dealing was mandatory prison time.
Baird's IAD file is powerful proof that taking a stand was fruitless. Even repeated complaints of harassment by Baird's estranged wife were dismissed. Each complaint, no matter how strong the evidence, ends with, "not sustained."
Baird's trail of abuse ended only when he picked on the wrong man. When he held a gun to the head of Arthur Colbert, a Temple student he mistook for a
drug dealer, Baird was not dealing with a young tough from the neighborhood. Colbert was innocent. He had nothing to hide, and he didn't know enough about how things worked in the 39th District to accept his treatment as routine.
This account of a rogue cop who beat the police oversight system for eight years is drawn in large part from the department's own files on Baird. Most police departments keep internal affairs files for decades; Philadelphia police destroy most after five years. Some of Baird's were preserved when he appealed in 1991 to get his job back.
This story draws on statements he made in those files and since his federal indictment (he declined to be interviewed), as well as on interviews with Colbert and other victims of Baird's, and with dozens of police officers and officials.
Early on, Baird knew the IAD investigation of the Colbert complaint was going to be different. A week after he made his complaint, 15 Los Angeles police were captured on videotape brutally beating Rodney King. The tape provoked national outrage, and on March 14, 1991, U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh ordered the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to begin reviewing "all police brutality cases."
In Philadelphia, that meant the FBI would be watching the IAD investigation of Colbert's complaint. For the first time in eight years of IAD investigations, Baird refused to answer questions.
Two months after stopping Colbert, Baird was fired along with his partner, Thomas Ryan, and his immediate supervisor, Sgt. Thomas DeGovanni. Eventually these three and three other cops would plead guilty to criminal charges. All six await sentencing in federal court. To save their own skins, Baird and Ryan began leading local and federal investigators to other bad cops. The investigation has since grown citywide.
Jack Baird was still untouchable in 1988 when Detective William Robbins
from the Northeast Detectives Division was assigned the "yellow" case.
Robbins inspected evidence of the spray-painting spree all over the neighborhood, which is in Philadelphia's Far Northeast, bordered by the Franklin Mills Mall and the old Byberry Hospital grounds. Baird had attended Archbishop Ryan High School just across Academy Road back in the early '70s. This was his old neighborhood.
Fingers were pointed quickly at Baird. His estranged wife, Janet, told Robbins that she was sure her husband did it. After all, she said, three of the other victims were her sisters, Baker and Grzybowski, and Barbara Kristy, whose Chevy and Jeep were the only cars yellowed on a block a mile away.
There also was an eyewitness. A corrections officer named Peter Shaw was up early getting ready for work at Graterford Prison that morning when he saw a man working up and down the block with a spray can.
"I had just moved here," Shaw recalled. "Baird used to live on this block and evidently he had a problem with some people in this neighborhood. I saw this guy with blond hair and a black windbreaker and blue jeans get out of his car and start spraying paint on cars up and down the block. He saw me looking at him. He just got in his car, and backed it down the street. I figured it was because he didn't want me to see his license number."
Shaw described the vandal, a big man with blond hair. He also described the car, a dark Pontiac TransAm with a loud muffler and a mangled driver's-side door. Yellow paint found on his TransAm was matched at the police crime lab with paint found on Grzybowski's car.
There was little doubt in Robbins' mind that the culprit was Baird. He and the car perfectly fit Shaw's description.
Baird denied everything. Robbins' report made clear that he didn't believe his fellow officer. The thoroughly incriminating file was forwarded to the district attorney for prosecution, and to IAD.
And nothing happened.
"I think I did a professional job," said Robbins, now a lieutenant. "But it did not result in an arrest of Jack Baird. It just didn't happen, which is all I can say about it. He didn't get locked up. Which is too bad."
The "yellow" case was not IAD's first acquaintance with Baird. He was already known to be a troubled man.
The same year Baird got his first citizen complaint, 1983, he was involved in a shooting that nearly ended his career. There were public protests in North Philadelphia after he shot and killed Patricia Tucker, a 38-year-old black woman. The police report that cleared Baird said he fired after Tucker pointed a small pistol at him.
Six more complaints followed over the next three years, including several
from Janet Baird, who reported she was being harassed by her estranged husband. Each report was dismissed with the finding, "not sustained."
Then came an incident that the department could not ignore. On March 21, 1986, Janet Baird phoned police to say that her husband had grabbed her by the hair and threatened to kill her, their children and himself. When she tried to run away from him, she said, he had fired his gun into the air, and then placed the gun to his head.
She had talked him out of shooting himself, she said, and he had flung his wallet to the ground.
"Take my money," she recalls him saying as he left.
That's when she called police.
Baird had separated from his wife three months earlier, and by his own later admission, he had been drinking heavily since. The two had attempted a reconciliation. But an afternoon of drinking had led to an argument, the shot and the threats.
Janet Baird's call prompted a big response. In addition to patrol officers, two police inspectors came out to the house on Townsend Road in Parkwood. A search of the neighborhood failed to find Baird, so the troops settled in to see whether he came back.
He did. Shortly after 11 p.m., he encountered the party waiting for him at his wife's house. According to a police memo describing the incident, Baird again held his gun to his head, and ordered everyone from his house. As everyone was leaving, he fired a second shot at his stereo set in the living room. He finally gave up his gun after talking with his partner Howard Seddon. He was taken to the Fairmount Institute, a mental hospital in Roxborough.
From there, Baird was suspended for 30 days and completed a 21-day alcohol treatment program. When he finished, he was ordered to attend regular meetings of the Police and Fire Counseling Unit, warned to lay off the booze, and detailed back out to the street.
On the street, Baird was nothing if not aggressive, the kind of cop supervisors like. With pressure from all quarters to do something about drugs, things like arrest totals and conviction rates offer at least paper proof that the battle is being waged. Cops with a stomach for the dirty work are hard to find.
"The way things are, half of the people here are just collecting a paycheck," said one high-ranking city police official. "They do what they have to do to collect the check. They don't jump off roofs. They don't break down doors. They don't put themselves at risk to get the bad guys, the way cops are supposed to. I'd say the guys doing that sort of thing are at most 20 percent of the department. These are your gung ho cops. You put a captain up there in the 39th, with all that's going on out in those streets, and you come to depend on guys like Jack Baird."
The department doesn't have quotas, but every experienced cop knows the difference between an easy arrest and a hard one. The guys making the hard arrests, the police official said, "tend to be a little off the wall sometimes. It's like a standing joke on the street, you have to be a little crazy to do this for a living."
So it is no coincidence that all of the line officers from the 39th who have been indicted were the busiest cops in the district. Together, Baird, Louis Maier, Steve Brown and Thomas Ryan accounted for nearly 10 percent of the 3,085 arrests in 1990.
Baird was among the most productive. He once testified that he had personally made about 1,500 narcotics arrests in five years, which was an exaggeration, but he did account for more than 3 percent of the district's busts in 1990. According to the 39th District arrest books, that year (his last full year on the force) he made 97 arrests, one of the highest totals in the district.
In October 1989, Baird got this official kudos from his supervisor:
"You are an excellent police officer who has shown by his many arrests that you have a valuable knowledge of the job. You are a tremendous asset to the squad. You get along well with the other squad members. If I could rate you outstanding, I would. Keep up the good work."
Arrests meant more than pats on the back. Since any arrest might eventually lead to testifying in court, and court hours are during the day, every collar on the night shift afforded the opportunity of overtime pay. A day in court could mean $100 to $200 in extra earnings. That year Baird's regular salary was $33,421. He earned nearly half again as much in overtime - $16,392.
There were plenty of other opportunities to make money. According to a source familiar with Baird's off-duty activities, he had a lucrative sideline referring personal-injury victims to a law firm. Then there was the cash he picked up on the street. Drug dealers on street corners usually carried wads of bills, often hundreds of dollars. A successful raid on a drug house could net thousands of dollars. Baird now admits that he often pocketed this cash.
On Halloween night in 1989, Baird and Officer James Ryan picked up Eric Glass, who had a long record of criminal arrests. Glass now says Baird relieved him of $100, planted drugs on him, and took him back to 39th District headquarters to charge him, stopping periodically along the way, Glass recalled, to jump out of their car and gleefully scatter groups of people on the sidewalk by pointing a toy Uzi at them - this being a neighborhood where automatic weapons are taken very seriously.
"I don't sell drugs," Glass protested. "I have a job. I don't need to be outside selling drugs."
Glass worked as an apprentice machine operator for USCO, a plant in South Philadelphia.
"How much did you make last year?" Baird asked.
He said about $20,000.
Glass says Baird laughed at him and exclaimed. "That's all? I tripled that! I make all the money in this district."
Baird claimed, according to Glass, that he had earned $75,000 already that year. (Glass' drug conviction was thrown out in July after Baird and James Ryan pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges.)
During their divorce, Janet Baird insisted that her estranged husband was hiding assets from her. At one hearing she told the judge that Baird had ''more money in his wallet right now" than he admitted to having made in the previous year.
Many of the complaints in Baird's file brought his abuses and venality to the department's attention.
Just weeks before the "yellow" incident in 1988, Baird was one of a group of officers who burst into the house of John Barr, on North Bonsall Street.
By all accounts, mayhem ensued. Barr, 53, was dragged off a toilet upstairs, handcuffed and roughed up during the raid. Baird and other officers claimed to have observed Barr's son selling drugs on the front porch. When the raiding party left, they charged Barr with possession of 13 vials of cocaine. In the police report, which named Baird and Brown as the arresting officers, it was noted that they had seized $10.
Barr was indignant. He had no criminal record and insists he was innocent of any drug use or dealing. He filed a complaint at 39th District headquarters three days after the incident, claiming that he had been beaten up by Baird, Brown and the others, thrown headlong down a staircase, called "nigger" repeatedly, had a gun pointed at his head, and had hundreds of dollars stolen
from his pants. He said Baird broke up his house and furniture with a sledgehammer.
The IAD investigation recorded all of Barr's objections, and the corroborating accounts of his witnesses, his girlfriend and his son. It noted that he had been treated for cuts and bruises at Metropolitan Hospital. It also noted damage to his house corresponding to the alleged sledgehammer damage.
The IAD investigator who interviewed Baird and the other officers didn't collect detailed accounts from each separately in order to look for inconsistencies. Each gave an identical perfunctory account of the incident, and briefly answered a series of questions like these, which were posed to Baird:
"Did you stick your gun between John Barr's eyes?"
"Did you take any money from John Barr or his pants?"
"I took a $100 bill off the bathroom floor, that's all."
"Did you punch or kick John Barr?"
"No. I just put him on the floor to handcuff him and made him stay there until we took him downstairs."
"Did you call John Barr a nigger?"
"Did you have a sledgehammer inside John Barr's home?"
"Did you break any furniture or any other thing in John Barr's home?"
And so on. No follow-up questions, no effort to elicit an explanation for
Barr's cuts and bruises, or the damage in the house.
When Barr flunked parts of a lie detector test, the matter was sealed. Baird and the other officers were not asked to take a lie detector test. Under city labor rules, police officers are not required to take polygraphs in IAD investigations. The complaint, so similar in some respects to the 1991 incident with Arthur Colbert, was judged "not sustained."
And despite the rote nature of the IAD questioning, the finding was understandable. It was, after all, Baird's and the others' word against
Barr did the smart thing. On the advice of his lawyer, he accepted a plea agreement on the lesser drug possession charges that enabled him to avoid prison and have the drug charges expunged from his record after a period of time.
"I advised Mr. Barr that challenging the charges in court there was no way to predict what would happen," said Daniel Paul Alva, Barr's lawyer.
With Barr's plea, there wasn't much reason to disbelieve the arresting officer's denials. Except that Baird began to accumulate quite a pile of similar complaints.
On March 25, four days before the spray-painting incident, James Green of Fayette Street called from a pay phone to report he had just been stopped by two supposed cops in street clothes, who swore at him and pushed him around, and without his permission searched his car and claimed to have found cocaine in it.
The officers were Baird and his partner, Howard Seddon. They didn't charge the truck driver with anything and failed to fill out a report saying they had stopped him, as they were required to do.
When the IAD man came around, Baird and Seddon denied everything. Green's complaint was "not sustained."
Four days later, on the same day as the spray-painting incident, Frederick Stockton filed a complaint at 39th District headquarters against Baird. Stockton explained that he had been visiting a friend two days earlier at 3125 N. 16th St., when Baird and Seddon burst in, guns drawn, and began searching for drugs. Stockton said he was taken into a back room by the two, stripped naked, and then interrogated.
"(Baird) called me a black nigger bastard and punched me in the face," Stockton wrote in a tidy script. He said Baird had grabbed him by the throat and punched him "repeatedly while I was handcuffed."
Baird and Seddon denied it.
Stockton's complaint was "not sustained."
Baird was still under investigation for these complaints when it was decided to drop efforts to charge him with the spray-painting episode. With the escalating frequency of complaints about Baird's behavior on-duty, an incident like this while he was off-duty might have been enough to finally derail his bumpy 11-year career.
"It became necessary to place this investigation on hold," wrote Lt. Thomas C. West, an IAD investigator, "because the Internal Affairs Unit was advised that Officer Baird was involved in a sensitive investigation which was being conducted by the Ethics and Accountability Unit." EAD is another group inside the police department charged with rooting out corrupt officers.
Baird had successfully played one of the department's corruption-fighting squads against the other. He went to EAD with a story about a corrupt unit of police officers who were stealing large sums from drug dealers. After negotiations with the District Attorney's Office, the spray-painting vandalism charges were put on hold and ultimately dropped. Baird agreed to wear a hidden tape recorder in an effort to catch the corrupt cops.
"He went to Ethics and Accountability to get clear of the vandalism case," said a top police official familiar with Baird's history. "No doubt about it. Baird may be crazy, but he's not stupid. What with the previous incident where he shot up his stereo, and the times he harassed his wife, he knew he was in trouble. So he went to EAD with a story of cops taking bribes
from drug dealers and offered to break it wide open."
Baird's "sensitive" case for EAD led nowhere.
"It didn't turn out to be much of a case," said a former EAD officer who asked not to be named. "He never delivered on what we were after, just enough to make the other case go away. Very artfully done, in retrospect."
According to West's report, he was told by Assistant District Attorney Drew Barth on Feb. 28, 1989, "that Officer Baird had been involved in an investigation carried out by EAD that was now concluded. The investigation produced negative results through no fault of Officer Baird. . . . Based on the circumstantial nature of the facts of the case (the spray-painting incident) and the ensuing time lapse, the district attorney's office would not prosecute Officer Baird."
So the IAD investigation of the Parkwood incident was also shelved. West's report on the "yellow" episode concludes, "The criminal investigation that Police Officer John Baird was responsible for vandalizing numerous vehicles, including Janet Baird's vehicle, in the Eighth District is not sustained."
Neighbors in Parkwood never got the word.
"Nobody ever told us anything," said Peter Shaw, the corrections officer who had seen the spray-painter, and who later had picked out a photo of Baird and identified him as the vandal. "We always wondered what happened with that one. As far as we knew, they had the guy who did it."
Baird's former wife had complained about him repeatedly. Citizens in his old neighborhood had been victimized by a man who most believed was Baird. By now more than a dozen people who had the misfortune of meeting Baird while he was on-duty had filed formal complaints. The pattern was there for anyone to see, physical and verbal abuse, particularly racist insults, stolen cash, fabricated drug charges. Each case boiled down to the officer's word against the citizen's word, and no matter how many people stepped forward with a complaint, Baird's simple denials carried the most weight.
The lesson for Jack Baird in all this was clear. He could get away with just about anything. He boasted to his friends, "Cops don't arrest cops."
By 1989, many people in city law enforcement circles knew that Officer Jack Baird was a problem.
The District Attorney's Office had been upset about Baird for years, dating back to one of the first harassment incidents reported by his wife before the 1986 murder/suicide threat and stereo-shooting incident. One former top official in the District Attorney's Office, who asked not to be named, recalls a conversation in which he argued, "We've got to get this guy off the force before he kills somebody."
Another former local prosecutor said, "A lot of us had heard scuttlebutt about Baird and that unit up in the 39th District. Let's just say that when he got in big trouble nobody was walking around saying, 'Oh, my God, can you believe what they're saying about Baird?' "
In early 1988, public defender Paul Messing had noticed that Baird and other 39th District officers had certain unvarying stories to tell about their searches. In case after case, Baird would claim that he observed drugs being passed through a slot or small hole in the front door. After making or observing a buy, they would claim a neighbor or onlooker had cried out ''Cops!" which placed them in danger and justified, legally, breaking down the front door and entering without a warrant.
"The cases weren't just similar," Messing said. "They were identical. If you look at the reports Baird filed, and at his testimony, it's the same, word for word."
Messing was waiting for Baird on March 3, 1989, when the officer took the stand to testify about his warrantless search of 4445 N. 17th St. the previous summer. Baird told the usual tale: the buy through the hole in the front door, the shout "cops!" and the bolt through the door. Baird was a confident, articulate, experienced witness. He answered questions calmly, directly, with authority.
When Messing offered the first example of a case in which Baird had given identical testimony, the smoothness vanished. Messing says the officer seemed to go pale on the witness stand. Suddenly his answers seemed confused. Assistant District Attorney Michael Kershaw objected to the relevance of Messing's question, and Judge Russell M. Nigro Jr. halted the trial and invited both lawyers into his chambers.
"The judge asked me where I was going with these questions, and I explained," Messing recalled. "At that point the judge asked Mr. Kershaw if his office would agree to investigate my claim. He said the D.A.'s Office would, so we postponed the trial for several weeks so they could look into it."
Nothing came of it. Messing phoned Elois Howard, chief of the D.A.'s felony unit, to ask what was happening with the investigation into Baird's presumed perjury. To Messing, Howard seemed "indifferent at best."
Howard said she did not take the allegation against Baird seriously.
"It really wasn't a big deal because the PDs (public defenders)were always making allegations," Howard since has explained.
Messing said that he wasn't just voicing a complaint, he had compiled evidence.
"We're not going to take any action," Messing recalls Howard saying.
Nigro dismissed the charges in the immediate case, and Baird stopped showing up for hearings on cases handled by Messing. The D.A.'s Office, despite evidence challenging Baird's credibility, continued to pursue the very cases Messing had flagged as tainted.
"Every time one of them came up, Baird failed to show, so when I challenged the search, the charges were thrown out," Messing said. "Then once, a year later, I walked into court on one of these cases and there Baird was. He was sitting in the courtroom reviewing the file, the way officers do before giving testimony. He looked up and saw me, then gently closed the file, set it on the table, and walked out of the courtroom."
That case, too, was dismissed.
"For the D.A.'s Office to have continued prosecuting those cases, after what we showed them, was simply outrageous," Messing said. "You have to understand, the D.A.'s Office works day to day, hand in hand with the Philadelphia Police Department. It counts on the police to help prosecute cases. Lots of people in that office knew about Jack Baird, but they weren't going to do anything about him because there is a real conflict of interest there. It means they will lose pending cases, and have to reverse hard-won convictions."
D.A. spokesman William Davol could not be reached for comment last week.
City Hall faced another kind of Baird trouble.
In August 1988, Baird and Seddon arrested a teenager employed in the cafeteria of Family Court. According to the boy, David Hammock, and numerous witnesses employed at the courthouse, Baird and Seddon had picked on the boy as he was trying to get a bag of potato chips from a vending machine. Ignoring his protest that he worked at the cafeteria, according to witnesses, Baird and Seddon argued with the boy, pushed him around, handcuffed him and arrested him. They charged him with disorderly conduct and harassment.
Complaints about the way Baird and Seddon handled the incident were filed in writing by six courthouse employees, and the charges against Hammock were withdrawn. Hammock sued the city and agreed to drop the case in return for a payment of about $2,000. There was no IAD investigation of the incident and not so much as a memo to his commander about the incident in Baird's file.
As far as the Philadelphia police were concerned, Baird was doing a great job. In October of that year, his supervisor filed this formal assessment:
"(Baird) performed his duties outstandingly. Officer Baird's positive attitude toward law enforcement has remained consistent and continues to grow and mature. This officer is a valuable asset to the Philadelphia police department, as well as the 39th District. . . . The officer's self-motivation permeates the other members of the platoon, causing a chain reaction and increasing Officer Baird's quality of significance."
Bessie Sharpe made Baird's acquaintance three days after Christmas 1989. Her decorated tree was still up in the living room corner the night three men in street clothes banged on her front door with guns drawn. One of the three was Jack Baird.
Sharpe is a sturdy, plump woman whose rowhouse on North 15th Street is just a short bus ride north from Temple University Hospital, where she has worked as a housekeeper for 30 years. Times were pretty good for Sharpe. She had in recent months twice hit the jackpot in the lottery, once with the Pennsylvania lottery and once with the illegal numbers game she played at a nearby store. Combined with savings, she had $3,120 in cash in a black shoe store sack stuffed under her mattress upstairs.
She knew how much money was in the bag because she had thrown a small party for her family on Christmas Day, and she was planning to buy her grandson a TV, so she had counted it out the night before and placed it back in the bag and under the mattress.
"We're looking for your son," one of the men said, showing her a paper and his badge.
Sharpe knew immediately that they were looking for her grown son, Alton, who was involved in drug dealing. It was a source of bitter disappointment and distress to her, but her son was 31 years old, and she hadn't had any real say in his life for years. It wasn't the first time cops had come looking for Alton.
"He's not here," Sharpe said.
"We have to look," the man said.
The man was Sgt. Thomas DeGovanni, one of Baird's supervisors in the 39th District. With him were Baird and Officer James Ryan. All three since have pleaded guilty to federal charges of violating citizens' civil rights and abusing their authority in a broad variety of ways.
"Well, come on in," said Sharpe.
They told her to sit on the couch by the Christmas tree. DeGovanni stayed there with her. As Baird and Ryan went upstairs to search for her son, DeGovanni stood looking out her front window, as if expecting someone.
"Your son should be ashamed of himself," he told Sharpe, and then proceeded to bad-mouth her son. Sharpe wasn't terribly concerned. She knew her son wasn't in the house, and she had nothing to hide. But the loud noises from upstairs began to alarm her. She heard cabinets opening, furniture moving and drawers being flung open. It sounded like they were pulling the house apart.
"Do they think he'd be hiding in the drawers?" she asked DeGovanni, stood up and started for the stairs.
The sergeant told her to sit back down, she wasn't allowed upstairs.
When they had finished upstairs, Baird and Ryan tore through the first floor. Then they went to the basement. When they were finished, Baird put a plastic bag on her coffee-table and showed Sharpe some packets of white powder he claimed to have found upstairs. Sharpe says she knew the powder wasn't hers, but she was frightened.
"It was just me home alone with these three big white men with guns out," she said. "I wasn't going to argue with them about nothing."
She asked if she could make a phone call, and the three let her phone her husband. But they were gone by the time he arrived. The house had been torn apart inside. Sharpe said she had been cleaning for about 20 minutes before she thought about her money.
"I ran upstairs and checked for the bag under the mattress and it was gone," she said.
At that point, the last thing Sharpe wanted was another visit from the Philadelphia police, but she was outraged. She tried several numbers from the phone book and got nowhere. Finally, she dialed 911 and was referred to the 39th District, where she made her complaint. She was very specific. She had no complaints about the search itself, or the officers trashing her house.
She wanted her $3,120 back.
Lt. Charles Lorenz of IAD was assigned to this one. Lorenz declined to be interviewed for this story.
The parameters of an IAD investigation are narrow. The complaint itself is examined and weighed on its merits. There is no indication in his otherwise thorough report that Lorenz had looked at the rest of Baird's file, that he knew people in the District Attorney's Office considered Baird a serious problem, or that he knew the Philadelphia Public Defender's Office had raised disturbing questions about Jack Baird's honesty.
"It's not necessarily IAD's fault," Gallagher said. "The way they're set up, they're almost exclusively reactive. They examine individual complaints. There's got to be a way to revisit these cases when a pattern appears. Right now there's no vehicle in place inside the department to do that. The EAD (Ethics and Accountability Division) was established to root out corruption, to be more proactive, to look for patterns. They even had the authority to wiretap."
As he began investigating Bessie Sharpe's complaint, Lorenz made no note in his report that she was one of several people in two years to complain that Jack Baird had stolen money:
* March 1988, John Barr says just over $100 was taken from his pants pocket. Baird denies it. "Not sustained."
* June 1988, a Philadelphia probation officer notifies police that one of his clients, Otis Helms, a convicted drug dealer, claims that Baird beat him, framed him and stole "a large sum of money." Baird denies it. "Not sustained."
* August 1988, George Mitchell files a complaint with the Mayor's Action Center, claiming that in a search of his home by Baird and other officers, he was beaten, subjected to racist insults, and had $279 stolen. Baird and the other officer deny it. "Not sustained."
* February 1989, Regina Minor of Ridge Avenue complains that Baird and several other officers searched her apartment and stole watches, jewelry and $5,000 in cash. Baird denies it. "Not sustained."
* June 1989, Edith Miller of North 17th Street complains that Baird and other officers from the 39th District searched her house for drugs and stole $2,500. Baird and the others deny it. "Not sustained."
* December 1989, Clifford Way complains that Baird and Officer Thomas Ryan stopped him, pushed him around, and took his $14 along with the rest of the cash from the kitty when they broke up a card game. Baird and Ryan deny it. ''Not sustained."
Sharpe's name was just a new item on the growing list of disappointed. DeGovanni, Baird and James Ryan didn't charge her with drug possession. So far as Sharpe was concerned, three cops had turned her house upside down, stolen her savings and then left.
Dutifully, Lt. Lorenz showed up at Sharpe's door at the end of January 1990. She told him the story.
"How much money is missing?"
"Three thousand, one hundred and twenty dollars in cash," she said.
"Where did the money come from?"
"One thousand was from a cruise which was canceled." Sharpe told the lieutenant the name of the travel agency and the name and address of the woman who gave her the refund. "The rest of the money was from winning the legal and illegal lottery."
" . . . Do you have any receipts for your legal lottery winnings?"
"No, they don't give receipts for anything under $500."
"Where do you play the legal lottery?" Lorenz asked.
"Broad and Tioga. A white guy by the name of Nick. I always play a dollar straight and a dollar box."
"When did you win the money?"
"Between November and December 1989. I hit both the legal and the illegal number for $4,000."
Sharpe had a lot of details about her winnings. She told the lieutenant where she played the illegal game and who sold her the tickets. All her facts checked out. The woman she had named at the travel agency told Lorenz that she recalled refunding the $1,000, and Sharpe produced a receipt. The operator of the newsstand where Sharpe bought her winning lottery tickets said that she was a regular, daily customer and that she had hit the number twice before Christmas, each time for $500.
Lorenz asked Sharpe to take a lie detector test. Reluctantly, she agreed.
"I was scared to go in there," she said. "But it wasn't right what they did. That $1,000 from the canceled cruise was money it took me a long time to save up. And how many times does your number hit like that? I wanted my money back."
Sharpe passed the lie detector test.
Lorenz interviewed the officers, and each denied Sharpe's allegation. Baird gave his account of the search, which agreed with DeGovanni's and Ryan's in every polite, professional particular. Then Lorenz asked his questions:
"Did you search the drawers in the clothes bureau?"
"No," said Baird.
"Did you search the front bedroom at all?"
" . . . Did you find any plastic bags in the front bedroom?"
"Is there anything you want to add?"
Lorenz wrote up his report on the Sharpe complaint on March 6, 1990.
"The allegation of Bessie Sharpe that police officers stole $3,120 from her bedroom is not sustained," he concluded. His report was approved by Capt. Robert Levins, and by the then-chief of IAD, Inspector Richard Neal, now police commissioner. It went into Baird's file with the others.
As did the previous citizens who had complained, Sharpe received a letter
from then-Police Commissioner Willie L. Williams announcing the completion of the departmental investigation of the complaint and inviting her to set up an appointment to review the findings. Sharpe didn't bother.
Baird since has admitted that money was taken from Sharpe's house that day, and that he got part of it.
Years later, when FBI Agent James E. Williamson and city Police Detective James Dambach stopped by to question her about the incident, after Baird, DeGovanni and James Ryan had been indicted and pleaded guilty to other crimes, Sharpe said she felt she had at last been believed.
"I told them, if I was going to make up a story about them having stolen money from my house, why, I would have said they took $8,000!" she said.
The agents took lots of notes and nodded sympathetically. They thanked her and left their cards.
As she was showing them out the door she asked plaintively because neither of the men had brought it up:
"How do I get my money back?"
"That's a good question," Dambach said.
"He didn't give me no answer," Sharpe said.
Less than a year after IAD concluded its look at the Sharpe complaint in 1990, the agency had already received two more about Baird.
Nettie Ruffin of the 1100 block of Erie Avenue filed a complaint alleging that Baird and Thomas Ryan had beaten and threatened to kill her son Tracy. She and her son claimed the officers were demanding a payoff of $1,000 per week to leave him alone. The Ruffin complaint was "not sustained."
Then, on Feb. 25, 1991, Arthur M. Colbert walked into the 39th Police District to tell his story, and within months both Baird and Officer Thomas Ryan were fired. The law enforcement career of Jack Baird was over.
Or at least it appeared to be. Baird immediately filed an appeal, and he was confident he would win reinstatement and full back-pay. After all, at the hearing it would boil down to his word against Colbert's.
And Jack Baird had a card up his sleeve.