The Ordeal of Ivan Potts Is the Same Old Tragic Story

Race and Politics

by: Sean Yoes Senior AFRO Contributor
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Ivan Potts seemed implausibly upbeat when I spoke with him on April 14, just two days after he was released from Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, Md. where he had spent almost two years after being convicted on a gun charge. That conviction was vacated last week and the charges dropped against Potts, after discovering that three of the officers who arrested him were three of the now infamous seven Baltimore City Police officers indicted by the Department of Justice in March for racketeering and other charges.

“I’m still trying to take on the feeling of just being free…it just happened instantly,” Potts, 31, said. “I just feel like the universe worked for me and it worked against negativity…for a change,” he added.

Sean Yoes (Courtesy Photo)

Potts most assuredly didn’t feel like the universe was working in his favor on the night of September 2, 2015, with the specter of Freddie Gray and the uprising still looming ominously over the city. Potts was walking on Chelsea Terrace in West Baltimore when he saw a car driving the wrong way down Fairview Avenue headed right towards him.

“When Potts was about five to seven townhouses away, Sergeant Jenkins and Detective Ward observed his left arm swinging freely and his right hand “affixed to his midsection, grabbing his dip area. Both officers testified that grabbing the dip area is an indication that a person is armed,” is what the prosecution argued in its case against Potts.

The phrase, “grabbing his dip area,” is the well-worn narrative embraced by BCPD and law enforcement agencies all over the country, when testifying in gun cases. Some argue the dip script has been leaned on so much by law enforcement it has become almost impossible to discern the truth from case to case. In the case of Potts, arrested by (Wayne) Jenkins, (Maurice)Ward and Det. Evodio Hendrix, part of one of the most prolific and now notorious BCPD gun units, the evidence and testimony proved to be more than dubious.

“They just flat out lied. I didn’t want to get a contempt in court, but I wanted to jump up and say, ‘Hold up, you just said this, and now you’re saying this,’” Potts said referring to the testimony of the officers.

And based solely on the testimony of those officers, who now sit in jail awaiting their trial on federal charges of racketeering, Potts spent more than 588 days in jail, before his case was dismissed and he was ultimately set free.

“I think the worst time was probably when I was found guilty,” Potts said of his time in jail. “I was like, I felt devastated. How did ya’ll just find me guilty? It wasn’t no evidence, no fingerprints,” he added.

Although the officers who arrested Potts were under federal investigation for misconduct during the trial in March 2016, their records were not admitted in court according to Potts’ attorney Todd Oppenheim. He says the rogue element within the BCPD is not an anomaly.

“It’s prevalent…there’s a lot, there’s certainly more than were indicted…it definitely goes beyond the seven,” Oppenheim said on First Edition on April 14. “He (Potts) filed his own pro se federal lawsuit that is currently pending, that is remarkable. That’s where his mind has been the whole time, he never wavered,” Oppenheim added.

If the guilty verdict was the most difficult day of Potts’ unjust incarceration, maybe the most surreal day was when he witnessed the seven officers (including the three that arrested him in September of 2015) being arrested on television, while he sat in his jail cell.

“First, I was like, I caught a glimpse of it…their faces just flashed across, I was like, they’re in my case,” Potts recalled. “We went to eat and we came back and it was like the 5 o’clock news was coming on and it was like breaking news and it came across and my cell buddy was like, ‘This can’t be real,’” Potts added. But, indeed it was, as real as it gets.

The truth is there are thousands of mostly Black, mostly poor men and women who have been jailed under the broad umbrella of what are known as, “illegal arrests,” going back to the dark days of so-called, “zero-tolerance,” policing in Baltimore. And for many, the universe seems to be working decidedly against them.

Next week, a closer look at the effects of these arrests on Baltimore’s population.

Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of AFRO First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday 5 p.m.-7 p.m. on WEAA, 88.9.

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