County police have filed departmental charges against three officers who they claim used excessive force when breaking up a loud party attended by Carl Jonathan Bowie and his brother last January, sources said this week.
The party became the first chapter in a controversy surrounding Bowie, who was found hanged from a backstop behind Oakland Mills High School four months later.
Police announced Monday that the three officers have been charged with violations of "departmental rules and procedures" as a result of an internal affairs investigation.
The announcement was met with sharp criticism from a local attorney representing one of the officers, who claims that police have over-stepped their bounds of reporting information to the public. Police refused to release the names of the three officers or what the charges are, although sources said all three officers are charged with excessive force.
Clarke F. Ahlers, a Columbia attorney representing Officer Victor Riemer, verified that Riemer is one of the officers charged.
Ahlers said he notified the county law office and the transition team of County Executive-elect Charles I. Ecker about the inappropriateness of county police Chief Frederick W. Chaney's decision to issue a press release on a personnel matter.
The investigation stemmed from a Jan. 5 incident at the Red Roof Inn in Jessup, where the three officers arrived and said they found a room full of underage people drinking alcohol.
Three people were arrested at the motel, including two Columbia brothers, Mickey and Carl Jonathan Bowie, who claimed they were beaten by the officers. On May 4, Carl Bowie was found hanged to death from an Oakland Mills High School backstop.
Bowie's death touched off a wave of questions in Columbia, where several of Bowie's friends claimed the 19-year-old was not the type to commit suicide. Questions of police credibility were raised and a state police investigator was called upon by the state's attorney's office to investigate the death.
The investigator ruled no signs of foul play were evident, although he added that "the manner of death could not be termed as suicide because of the lack of evidence."
Ahlers said the departmental charges are not consistent with a previous ruling by a Howard County grand jury, which dismissed criminal charges against the officers earlier this year.
The police investigation "represents a desperate attempt by Chief Chaney to bolster his own failing credibility with the community," Ahlers said.
Chaney referred all questions to a department spokesman.
Police spokesman Gary L. Gardner said the decision to announce the findings of the internal investigation was made in light of numerous media inquiries about the Bowie case.
"We had every Baltimore TV station and area newspaper asking about the status of the investigation," Gardner said. "Because of the magnitude of the case and the public attention it has received, we thought it was important for the community to hear a statement."
Gardner said the announcement "was not an arbitrary one" and was made because "we thought it was important for the community to hear it." The county office of law reviewed the announcement before it was released, Gardner said.
Many reporters were tipped off about the internal affairs investigation, most likely as a result of Ahlers making public statements about his client's case, Gardner said.
Each of the three officers is entitled to a three-person departmental hearing to challenge the findings, which can have penalties ranging from a letter of reprimand to termination of employment, Gardner said.
No hearing date likely will be set until after Jan. 1, Gardner said.
Chaney also recently was criticized for his treatment of Riemer when Dale L. Hill, who heads a police union representing county police officers, accused the chief of unfairly singling out the officer.
In a letter to Chaney, Hill said Riemer had been targeted for "other than normal" investigations of police misconduct.