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Breaking The Code Of Silence: Family Of Detective Branded 'Rat' Wants Investigation Into Threats

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- The family of a Baltimore City police detective is pressing for a federal investigation, saying he's the victim of vicious harassment and witness intimidation. They say it all started when he broke the "code of silence" in the department and testified against other officers later convicted for their roles in orchestrating the beating of a drug suspect.

Mike Hellgren reports the detective fears for his life.

Detective Joe Crystal landed his dream job on the Baltimore City police force.

That's now turned into a nightmare after he was branded a snitch for testifying against fellow officers. He says he fears retaliation. While he can't speak because there's an open investigation, his dad--a former cop himself--can, and he's furious.

"The corruption in this department is the worst I have ever seen," said Robert Crystal.

The troubling chain of events unfolded in October 2011.

A drug suspect was arrested for breaking into a home of a fellow officer's girlfriend and taken away--only to be hauled back on the orders of a sergeant and beaten. A jury convicted the officer of assault and the sergeant of misconduct for allowing it to happen.

Detective Crystal proved instrumental. In testifying against both of them, he broke an unspoken "code of silence" among officers and his wife says he's still paying the price.

"My husband came home and he said, `Our lives are never going to be the same,'" said Nicole Crystal.

WJZ obtained his personal journal detailing his allegations of not getting backup on the beat, being called a snitch and finding a dead rat on his windshield at his home in Baltimore County. It was an act police there labeled witness intimidation in a report.

"I was terrified. I didn't want to get near it because I knew they were calling him a rat. It was a symbol that you're dead to us," Nicole Crystal said.

She told WJZ she heard her husband's direct supervisor threaten him.

"He said, `You better pray to God you're not the star witness,'" she said.

In his journal, Detective Crystal recounts meetings with prosecutors: telling them about the rat, meeting with police, telling them about threats and getting promises that there would be full accountability. But after all this time, little has happened.

Crystal's father has lost faith in the city police and prosecutors.

"My son has been in fear for his safety for more than two years," he said.

He's now calling for the FBI to step in and for the mayor and the commissioner to throw their support behind a federal investigation.

"Clean up this department. Let the chips fall where they may. Whoever is guilty, let's get rid of them. Make it a department that you can be proud of," he said.

Crystal says his son--who he considers a whistleblower--has been denied transfers and shifted around the department to the point of invisibility.

"All he tried to do was his job and what has happened here is a travesty," he said.

"What do you do when your husband goes to work and you know that every day, he may be harmed by a criminal but you have to fear even more that he's going to be harmed by the person who's not backing him up. He's scared for his safety every day and rightfully so," said Nicole Crystal.

All for speaking up and for breaking the code of silence.

The state's attorney's office was never able to figure out who put the rat on Detective Crystal's car.

Police say they are determined to get to the bottom of any corruption and their investigation is ongoing.

WJZ has repeatedly asked Commissioner Batts for an interview.

This is the statement sent to WJZ: "We will not tolerate corruption, wrongdoing, or erosion of the public trust. Any officer, or group of officers found to be engaged in conduct that is illegal will be charged, and with the cooperation of the State's Attorney's Office, prosecuted to the fullest extent possible. We will not stop in our efforts to identify and fire officers whose behavior is repugnant to the citizens we serve, and to protect those who report them. We strongly encourage and support officers across the organization to feel safe and justified in reporting criminal behavior."

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