NEW YORK — A federal judge who had been roundly criticized for invalidating a confession and seizure of 80 pounds of heroin and cocaine reversed himself Monday, ruling that police had properly seized the drugs from a suspected courier and that the evidence could be used against her.
U.S. Dist. Judge Harold Baer Jr. said that additional testimony from the defendant and police during an unusual second hearing he conducted convinced him to change his mind.
In January, Baer disqualified as evidence the videotaped confession of 41-year-old Carol Bayless of Detroit, and duffel bags containing the narcotics that were found in the trunk of her car, because he said police lacked probable cause when they stopped the vehicle last April 21.
Baer said it was not suspicious for the four men who had just put the bags in the trunk to run away from police because many people in the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights view police as "corrupt, abusive and violent."
He added that Bayless' behavior when officers stopped her car was consistent with a person leaving New York in the early morning for a long drive home.
Besides throwing out the government's best physical evidence, his initial decision also negated Bayless' 40-minute videotaped confession, during which she told investigators she had traveled at least 20 times from Michigan to New York to buy cocaine for her son and others beginning in 1991.
On Monday, Baer apologized to residents and law enforcement officers in Washington Heights, an area where drug dealing has been a pervasive problem along with cases of police corruption.
"Hyperbole" in his initial decision "regretfully may have demeaned the law-abiding men and women who make Washington Heights their home and the vast majority of the dedicated men and women in blue who patrol the streets of our great city," he said.
In a statement, U.S. Atty. Mary Jo White said she was "gratified" by Baer's new ruling. Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) had called for Baer's impeachment after the initial decision in January.
New York's Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) had contended that the 62-year-old judge was more concerned with the rights of defendants than with public safety.
White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry had said that if Judge Baer did not reverse his ruling, President Clinton--who named Baer to the bench in 1994--might ask for his resignation.
Four members of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan, in a statement, came to the embattled judge's defense, saying the attacks "threaten to weaken the constitutional structure of this nation" and "do a grave disservice to an independent judiciary."
They labeled McCurry's threat "extraordinary intimidation."
When federal prosecutors requested another hearing to present more evidence, Baer agreed.
In his decision Monday, he noted that at the first hearing the government basically produced only a single witness. But, on reexamination, prosecutors came forward with another officer who observed the events.
The new evidence, Baer said, made clear that "the investigative stop of the defendant in this case was valid."
The case against Bayless, who is charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics and who remains jailed, will be restored to the court calendar and readied for trial.