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Baltimore Co. police cadet charged with evidence vault drug theft

The Baltimore Sun,
BYLINE: Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun,

Baltimore County, MD

Nicholas Michael Ishmael, 20 and a police cadet, was released today from the Baltimore County Detention Center, where he had been held on $650,000 bail. (Baltimore County Police / June 25, 2014)

A Baltimore County police cadet stole drugs with a street value of more than $125,000 from the evidence vault at the department's headquarters and sold the drugs to two cousins, according to charging documents and police officials.

Nicholas Michael Ishmael, 20, stole evidence related to at least 15 cases, including Oxycodone tablets, cocaine, morphine and other drugs, according to documents filed in District Court.

After a "very lengthy investigation," Chief James W. Johnson said, the department is in the process of reviewing "every piece of evidence in our property evidence unit, and we intend to review all policies and procedures, and technologies and other techniques we can use to prevent this from happening in the future."

The department has reviewed 8,000 cases and must review another 19,000, officials said. In four cases, $450 in cash that was being kept as evidence remains unaccounted for, but officials do not believe Ishmael is involved.

He was charged Tuesday with 10 counts of theft and drug-related charges, and was expected to be released Wednesday from the Baltimore County Detention Center on $650,000 bail.

"I am deeply troubled by the circumstances," Johnson said. "We spend a lot of time developing and building the integrity of this agency, and impeachment of our ability to track and control evidence is certainly called into question."

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger, whose office is reviewing the affected cases, said, "We are appropriately concerned." He added that he does not believe the thefts will directly affect the outcome of any cases, which include a homicide.

Defense attorney Mark Van Bavel, who isn't involved in any of the cases, said it would be difficult for the state's attorney's office to try cases without drugs but that the prosecutors could use circumstantial evidence.

Another defense attorney not involved in the cases, Arthur E. McGreevy, said that "it would be very difficult to reach your burden with the drugs being gone" and that the cases would likely be dropped.

Johnson said no other department personnel were involved.

Ishmael did not have an attorney listed in online court records. He does not have a prior adult criminal record in Maryland, records show.

Ishmael's grandmother, Rosie Rambissoon, who was in town with her husband visiting from Trinidad, said Ishmael and his two brothers grew up in Parkville.

"We're upset," she said. "Nicholas was such a nice boy. He was never in any trouble. I don't know how he found himself in this trouble."

The investigation began when the commander of the department's Evidence Management Unit found Oxycodone was missing from a case, according to charging documents. Detectives later found that evidence from nine cases was unaccounted for.

On June 2, investigators with Internal Affairs and Vice Narcotics completed a full audit of the narcotics evidence vault and found Oxycodone evidence from four additional cases was missing.

About two weeks later, evidence from two more cases went missing, according to charging documents.

Investigators determined that Ishmael "strategically removed" items from evidence despite numerous security controls, Johnson said.

The department employs about 40 cadets, ages 18 to 21, who are training for a career in law enforcement. They are subjected to the same background checks, polygraph tests, physical exams and drug tests as sworn officers. Ishmael's polygraph test was "uneventful," according to the department.

The evidence room employs three cadets, seven civilian personnel and veteran sworn officers. Johnson said that for 30 years — since he was a cadet with the department — cadets have been working in the evidence room.

He said that the department regularly completes audits and that all evidence is tracked using an electronic bar code system and monitored by security cameras. Officers regularly dispose of drug evidence from cases that have been adjudicated, he said.

Officers searched Ishmael's Parkville home and his Nissan on Tuesday. As Ishmael left work the same day, police said, detectives stopped him and found $40,000 in cash in a drawstring backpack during a search. Detectives said they also found a fake North Carolina driver's license in a wallet he was carrying.

In his car police found a prescription bottle of morphine, tablets of Oxycodone and Suboxone, and a "ziplock bag containing a white powder substance," according to charging documents.

At his Westmoreland Avenue home where he lived with his mother, officers found items from the evidence room, the documents said, including K-Packs, or plastic packages of Oxycodone, as well as evidence room inventory papers and disposal forms, and various drugs.

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