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Publicly, prosecutors and police are always on the same team. Disagreements are stashed in the corners of ongoing investigations. Problems are kept in-house. But last week in federal court, a messier reality was on display. Inside the courtroom, justice was turned on its ear: A former homicide chief at the U.S. Attorney’s Office was cross-examining a local judge, two Metropolitan Police Department detectives were sitting at the defendants’ table, and the gallery was filled with assistant public defenders and detectives, rare allies in a war against a prosecutor imported from Virginia. “Is it fair to say that there’s generally some tension between police and prosecutors about when an arrest should be made?” defense lawyer David Schertler — a homicide chief in the 1990s — asked the witness. “That’s fair to say,” answered Judge Jennifer Anderson of D.C. Superior Court. By that point, Anderson had been testifying before a jury for nearly nine hours about her irreconcilable differences with two D.C. detectives over their handling of a high-profile murder investigation two years ago, when she was still a deputy homicide chief in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The detectives, Milagros Morales and Erick Brown, are on trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for allegedly coaching witnesses to lie to Anderson so she would sign off on a draft arrest warrant. The trial is expected to run through this week. Defense attorneys tried, with some success, to show that Anderson was a bare-knuckled prosecutor who wasn’t above scaring witnesses into telling the truth. They were less successful in showing that she refused to sign the warrant out of contempt for an aggressive detective and that her standards for showing probable cause were unreasonably high. It was clear, though, that Anderson had few fans in the courtroom — and none in the back, where a group of homicide detectives often quietly derided her during her testimony. SPILLED DRINKS AND A STABBING The case stems from the stabbing death of Terrance Brown in February 2005 during a fight on the dance floor of the District’s Club U. Two days after Brown’s murder, Morales delivered a draft arrest warrant, for a man two witnesses identified as Jerome Jones, to Anderson for her approval. By Aug. 23, the murder case was in disrepair and both detectives had been pulled from the investigation. In the intervening months, the detectives — Brown in particular — tangled with Anderson over whether they had probable cause to lock up Jones on first-degree murder charges. Their arguments devolved into screaming matches. Anderson initially refused to sign the warrant, because she felt it was missing key information that put Jones’ guilt into doubt. She asked to interview the witnesses herself, a request that Brown and Morales took “very poorly,” she said on the stand. When the detectives did deliver the witnesses, their stories had changed in all the right ways: The box cutter that one witness saw in Jones’ hand — which contradicted the medical examiner’s report that Brown had been killed by a 3.5-inch blade — had somehow become a shiny knife-like object. One witness forgot about the other attackers they had initially described in their videotaped interviews with the detectives. Another told Anderson that Jones had called her after the murder and said, “The guy was spilling drinks on me, so I had to stab the shit out of him.” “Is it a coincidence that the three things I have issues with are magically fixed?” Anderson testified. Steptoe & Johnson partner Reid Weingarten, who is representing Brown, tried to show that Anderson had provoked the detectives: “Isn’t it true you said [to Brown], �If you did your job, you wouldn’t have these issues. You need to interview your witness better’?” Anderson said she couldn’t recall using those exact words. “Didn’t you say, �What’s wrong? Are you worried about asking the right questions because of the answers you’ll get?’” he pressed. Again, Anderson said she couldn’t remember. Schertler confronted her later, asking whether she had threatened one of the witnesses with perjury. Anderson parried: “I didn’t say, �I’m going to charge you with perjury.’ I said, �These are things that could happen.’” “You said the word �perjury’ to her, correct?” “Correct.” Schertler, reading from a grand jury transcript, said witness Edith Smith was shaken: “The mention of me and my federal government job and perjury, and, you know, me potentially getting locked up, was a little bit startling.”
Joe Palazzolo can be contacted at [email protected].

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