Two Kentucky constables violated people’s rights by illegally searching or detaining them and taking money or other property without going through the legal process, a federal jury ruled Friday.
Jurors convicted Pulaski County constables Michael “Wally” Wallace and Gary E. Baldock on a charge of conspiring to violate civil rights and one charge each of possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute it.
Federal authorities did not argue that the two sold drugs, but rather that they kept drugs in order to plant them on people to make bogus arrests. That was the alleged conduct in the distribution charge.
FBI agents found 5.9 grams of meth at Wallace’s house when they arrested him and half a gram of meth in the trunk of Baldock’s cruiser.
The drug charge carries a potential maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Federal law required detention for Wallace after the conviction because of the potential length of the sentence.
Wallace had been free on bond, but U.S. District Judge Robert E. Wier ordered him taken into custody.
Wallace handed his suit jacket and personal items to emotional family members before an officer escorted him from the courtroom.
Baldock had already been in jail for some time before the trial after being accused of shooting an FBI agent when federal authorities came to arrest the two men on March 6, 2020.
Constables in Kentucky are elected and have full police powers. Some do little police work, but Wallace was prolific, with dozens of drug cases pending in local courts at the time he was arrested.
Wallace, who would likely have run for county sheriff in 2022, upped his profile with frequent posts about arrests on his Facebook page. In some cases, he put up a sign outside the homes of people he’d arrested saying “This drug house is closed for business” courtesy of the constables.
In 2018, however, federal authorities began investigating whether Wallace and Baldock were planting drugs on people in order to create a reason to arrest them and confiscate money or other property, such as vehicles.
Three Somerset police officers who backed up Wallace during a traffic stop raised a concern that Wallace may have planted evidence in order to justify arresting the driver.
Two of the officers said that after Wallace stopped the car, they searched it and didn’t find any drugs, but that Wallace then approached the car, spent just a moment at the driver’s door, and came back holding a small bottle that contained meth.
Shortly after the traffic stop, Wallace said in an affidavit for a search warrant that he found drugs in a cigarette pack under the seat of the car. His account during the federal trial however, was that he found the meth in a small bottle inside a glove in the door panel.
Also, Gregory A. Ousley, a former federal and local prosecutor who now does criminal defense work in Somerset, told the Herald-Leader he contacted federal authorities about claims by several of his clients that Wallace had planted drugs on them and taken money during arrests without logging in the entire amount as evidence.
Some cash and property seized in drug cases ultimately is awarded to the investigating police agency, including constables, when the case is resolved.
Baldock’s attorney, Kevin West, said in his closing argument that the fact Wallace asked Somerset officers to help him at the traffic stop, and not Baldock, showed there was no conspiracy between the constables.
Baldock often assisted Wallace, but several other police agencies also did, West said.
West said Baldock had never cleaned the trunk of his car after buying it, suggesting he didn’t know the small amount of meth was in a bag in the trunk, and that there was no credible evidence Baldock planted any drugs on people or took part in the conspiracy.
Wallace’s attorney, Robert E. Norfleet, charged in his closing argument that some prosecution witnesses had lied, and that Wallace had never planted drugs on anyone to make a case.
The meth authorities found at Wallace’s house was properly identified and stored in a safe, and was only there because Wallace hadn’t yet been able to put it into storage at the police department, Norfleet said.
Norfleet argued the federal investigation of Wallace grew from an effort to destroy his ability to run for sheriff and was built on self-serving lies from people involved in drugs.
“The smear campaign starts, and here we are,” Norfleet told jurors. “The only conspiracy here is the government’s attempt to prosecute Mr. Wallace wrongfully.”
Prosecutor: ‘They’re both in it’
However, the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason D. Parman, said there was no evidence of a scheme by the FBI and local authorities to knock Wallace out of the sheriff’s race.
One witness this week testified that Wallace and Baldock took part in setting her up on a bogus drunken-driving arrest, and two others testified about allegations that Wallace planted evidence on them.
Parman pointed in particular to an incident in September 2019 that he argued showed Wallace and Baldock worked closely to violate a man’s rights.
In that incident, the FBI had an undercover police officer pose as a potential drug dealer, with $11,000 in his pocket, to see if Wallace and Baldock would plant drugs on him or take money.
The constables did not plant drugs on the man. However, audio and video recordings the FBI made of the encounter told a different story than Wallace and Baldock, Parman said.
In order to justify arresting the man, Baldock wrote a citation charging the undercover officer with public intoxication, saying the man was slurring his words, was unsteady on his feet and appeared to be obviously drunk. Wallace signed the charge.
The recordings — which the jury heard and saw — clearly did not show what the constables said in the citation, Parman said.
Wallace also said in an application to search the man’s hotel room that a source told him the man was selling drugs and that the man had drugs in his motel room, Parman said.
The FBI did have a source call Wallace about a possible drug dealer, but the source didn’t tell Wallace those things, Parman said.
The application to search the man’s room also said that when the constables approached the undercover officer’s vehicle in a parking lot, another car took off, implying they’d interrupted a drug deal. However, aerial video shot by the FBI did not show that.
The constables searched the man’s room and Baldock strip-searched him in the bathroom, but found no drugs.
The two violated constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure in dealing with the undercover officer and arrested him without cause, Parman told jurors.
“They’re both in it,” Parman said. “If ever there’s a civil rights violation, it’s right there, ladies and gentlemen.”
The jury deliberated a little less than four hours before convicting Wallace and Baldock on all the charges against them.
When asked about the potential for an appeal, Norfleet said he would discuss all options with Wallace.
“We obviously strongly disagree with the verdict,” Norfleet said.
West said it was too early to discuss a potential appeal by Baldock. He faces another trial next month on charges related to shooting the FBI agent, who survived.
An officer also shot Baldock in that exchange.
Wier scheduled sentencing for Wallace and Baldock in October.