Jennifer Catalano was steps from her back door on the night of June 13, 2012 when a neighbor intercepted her. “Jen, Jen, Tiny’s dead,” the neighbor told her.
Baltimore Police Officer Timothy Johnson had killed Catalano’s Rottweiler with a shot to his head.
Catalano remembers how she took the dog around the perimeter of the yard on Grindon Avenue to teach him his boundaries after she rescued him. Tiny learned them, “except that he would jump the fence to play with the neighbor’s lab,” she says, speaking over the chain link fence in the back yard last week. “He wouldn’t have run into the street,” she says. On the day police shot him, Tiny was 9 years old and had hip dysplasia.
“Tiny’s dead, Mike’s in jail,” she says the neighbor told her.
Police had raided the house she shared with her boyfriend, Michael H. Williams. Backed by a seven-man squad from the department’s Violent Crimes Impact Division, police shot Tiny, tased another of their three dogs, and hauled Williams to jail on drug charges.
The police found two baggies of white powder—suspected cocaine—in a flower pot on the back porch, they said. They seized a couple of hunting rifles.
But it was all bogus, according to a lawsuit filed against the police officers. The drug raid was trumped up because a thief and confidential police informant named Terry Hubbell wanted his girlfriend—Catalano—back. And Hubbell’s pals and handlers—Detective Edgardo Hernandez and Johnson—went along with the plan to ruin Williams, the lawsuit alleges. The white powder turned out to be heroin.
The lawsuit raises questions about the way Baltimore Police officers are trained and disciplined, about the use and monitoring of confidential informants, and about the competence of the department’s Internal Affairs Division which, despite finding none of either Catalano or William’s DNA on the drug bag, failed to make a case against any of the police involved.
“I want those assholes to be charged with a felony,” Catalano says, “so they can never own guns, and never be police again.”
Police lawyers had not yet responded to the court complaint when City Paper reviewed it. The department does not respond publicly to lawsuits, and the officers involved could not be reached for comment. “The 9 listed officers are active members of the police department,” Detective Rashawn Strong, a department spokesman, said in an email. “That’s all the information I have at this time.”
Williams, a custom tile installer, and Catalano, who grew up cooking and waitressing in her parents’ Northeast Baltimore bar, Cafe Tattoo, bought the house together in 2001, and lived there as a couple until 2010, when their romance hit a rough patch.
“His high school sweetheart found him on the Myspace,” Catalano says, “and he sort of lost his mind.” On Facebook, Terry Hubbell found Catalano, she says. “He told me he had some problems but was in recovery,” she says pronouncing those last two words with a special contempt. “I love that.”
Catalano got an apartment and Hubbell talked his way in, she says: “It was one of those things where I invited him over and he never left.” She says Hubbell had cop friends and said he was helping them flip houses, doing handyman stuff before he was injured in a fall. She believed it “until he borrowed my car, and then he didn’t pick me up.”
One day in the spring of 2012 when Hubbell was supposed to pick up Catalano from work, Officer Johnson arrived instead. According to the lawsuit, Johnson “explained that he was there to pick her up, in place of Terry Hubbell, who, according to Officer Johnson, was busy ‘helping the police.’”
By this time, Catalano says, she was tired of Hubbell and wanted to get back with Williams. She says Hubbell had become increasingly abusive and threatening. A few weeks after Johnson picked her up at work, Detective Hernandez showed up at her apartment, along with a uniformed female police officer. According to the lawsuit, Hernandez told Catalano that Hubbell had achieved “residence” in her place, and so she had to let him stay even though hers was the only name on the lease. “Defendant Hernandez also told Ms. Catalano to ‘keep her mouth shut’ and that if she told anyone of Hubbell’s role as a confidential police informant, she would be arrested.”
Hubbell is either 50 or 47 years old, according to various court records. Reached via Facebook, he declines to comment about the lawsuit or his relationship with Catalano and Hernandez. “Let a sleeping dog lie ed is a good police officer and person,” he wrote, presumably referring to Hernandez. “[A]s for the other two jen and mike well look close beyond the smoke and mirrors.”
Catalano has no prior criminal record. Williams had a battery case in 1995 and a pot charge in Wicomico County in 2002. The pot charge was dropped. He got probation for resisting arrest in the 1995 case.
Hubbell’s arrest record comprises more than 30 cases since 1988, including theft, drug possession, identity theft, counterfeiting, forgery, unlicensed contracting, malicious property destruction, and arson. The vast majority of the cases were dropped. There is currently a warrant for his arrest on theft charges in Baltimore County. The online case file gives Hubbell’s address in Jacksonville, Florida.
Catalano says she had no idea Hubbell was a confidential police informant before Hernandez’s visit.
On May 31, 2012, Hernandez texted Catalano, the lawsuit says: “Hey Jen this is Ed, Terry’s cop friend. Just to let you know that whatever info u r getting about him is not true. Text me if you have any questions.” Catalano says she has no idea what Hernandez’s text was referring to.
The text came less than two weeks before Hernandez swore out an affidavit for a search warrant on Catalano’s house.
By then, Catalano had moved back in, reconciling with Williams and leaving Hubbell in her old place to pay the rent if he could. Hubbell became “angry and agitated,” the lawsuit alleges, and began to text Catalano increasingly threatening messages, to the effect that she would not want him as an enemy.
On June 13, Hernandez took an affidavit to District Court Judge Rachel Cogen, alleging that “Confidential Informant 3633” had bought cocaine from Williams at the house in a “controlled purchase.” Warrant in hand, Johnson, Hernandez and the seven-man VCIS squad hit the door of the Catalano/Williams house with a battering ram, then shot two of the three dogs, killing one.
“The anger and the hurt is never gonna go away,” Catalano says. “I try not to let it eat me alive. Michael took the brunt of it.”
The lawsuit says that police found no drugs or other contraband in their initial search of the house. Shackled on his living room floor, Williams demanded to know why they’d done it. “Defendant Hernandez responded in anger: ‘so that’s the way it is?’ And with that, Hernandez marched out of the room and returned immediately with drugs supposedly found in a flower pot on the back porch,” the complaint states.
“We had a flowerpot hanging from this hook right here,” Catalano says, pointing to the ceiling behind her. “This door was wide open. That’s always what drug dealers do, right?”
Catalano arrived to find her dog dead and asked a neighbor to clean up the blood. Hubbell texted her: “Sorry to hear about tiny he was a good boy.”
The drug charges caused Williams to be fired from his job. He went into a depression, the lawsuit says. He did not work for more than six months and, according to the complaint, “continues to suffer extreme depression, fear, embarrassment and emotional distress.” Catalano said she would ask Williams to speak to City Paper. Williams’ lawyer, Norman Smith, told the paper he advised his client not to speak to the press, and Williams did not.
The day after the raid, Catalano found her other dog, Junior, whimpering on the street, still dragging the Taser wire a cop had shot into him the night before, the complaint says. She rushed him to the vet. Hubbell, meanwhile, texted Catalano: “I really hope jr is OK and sorry to hear about tiny but Mike is at fault not me.”
Prosecutors dropped the drug case against Williams in November 2012, citing “a problem with the confidential informant,” the lawsuit says.
By then the couple had taken the case to Baltimore City Police Internal Affairs. The IAD took DNA samples from Williams and Catalano to check against what was on the drugs Hernandez had claimed he found on the back porch. There was no DNA from either resident on the baggie or its contents, the suit alleges. This is what cleared Williams in the criminal case, according to the lawsuit, but “later still, the IAD informed Mr. Williams that there was insufficient evidence to proceed against the police officers.”
Since then, Hernandez has made more than 130 criminal arrests, and Johnson has made more than 200, online court records indicate. Hernandez is assigned to the department’s Special Investigations Section. Johnson’s latest case at press time is an armed robbery case filed on June 9.
The civil suit seeks $3 million in damages and names the nine cops on the raid, plus former Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld, who the suit alleges should have taken Hernandez’s badge for beating a suspect in another case years before (that case was settled in July of 2012—a month after the raid—for $175,000, court records indicate).
“I didn’t own guns before this happened,” Catalano says. “We used to leave our doors and windows open. We don’t do that anymore. . . . I was raised to trust police officers, you know? Officer Friendly. It’s not like that now.”
Written by Edward Ericson Jr. for the Baltimore City Paper