BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Prosecutors and police continue to be frustrated when good cases fall apart when witnesses refuse to testify because they have been threatened.
As Mike Schuh reports, this led to a first of its kind event to find better ways to protect those who need to testify in open court.
Once the helicopters are gone, the evidence has been bagged up, the police tape is down and their squad cars have left, detectives will have notepads full of information and, perhaps the names of witnesses who not only saw what happened but will walk into open court and, before the accused, his family, friends and a jury, will testify what was seen. In Baltimore, witness intimidation can short-circuit those plans.
So Tuesday, for the briefest of moments, our cameras were allowed inside a first of its kind gathering in Baltimore.
Prosecutors and police traded notes on how to protect witnesses.
“Yeah, it can be done but it starts with communication and trust,” said Baltimore City Delegate Keiffer Mitchell Jr.
The witnesses have to trust that the prosecutor will protect them.
“And that’s really why we put this thing together,” said City State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein.
One hundred and sixty people were there at Bernstein’s invitation.
“I view it more as nuts and bolts, roll up your sleeves, what are practical solutions?” Bernstein said. “And the best way to find practical solutions is to examine best practices in other jurisdictions.”
As you might imagine, most of the day was closed to outsiders because what solutions they exchange don’t need to be known by the bad guys.
The work extends beyond Baltimore City.
“I also thought of a couple of ideas that some of the other prosecutors mentioned that we might want to try in our county,” said Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger.
The city doesn’t track how many cases fall apart due to witness intimidation but they hope with what they learn here, it will be fewer.
This conference drew police and prosecutors from around the mid-Atlantic.