Arundel officer convicted Rape charge dropped in plea agreement

March 19, 1991|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,Sun Staff Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS -- An Anne Arundel County police officer who had been suspended from the force for 30 days 11 years ago after a woman accused him of rape was convicted yesterday of misconduct in another rape case.

Prosecutors dropped the more serious charge of second-degree rape of a 24-year-old Crofton woman as part of a plea agreement that required the officer, Michael Dennis Ziegler, 39, to resign from the force.

Ziegler, who also was suspended in 1984 after failing to file a rape report he had taken from a Laurel woman, pleaded not guilty to the misconduct charge, but was convicted by Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. based on a prosecutor's statement of facts.

The victim, who had agreed to accept a guilty plea to avoid a trial, complained tearfully later that Ziegler "got nothing for what he did" and that a "24-year-old victim doesn't have any rights."

She and her lawyer, George Woelfel, said they had understood that Ziegler would plead guilty to the misconduct charge, an important point because they plan to file a civil suit against the officer.

Since Ziegler entered a plea of not guilty, the conviction cannot be admitted as evidence should the civil suit come to trial.

Michael May, Ziegler's lawyer, argued that the victim was "trying to use the criminal system to pursue civil ends."

Prosecutor Cynthia M. Ferris said that in initial discussions Ziegler had agreed to plead guilty to the misconduct charge.

However, the agreement was later changed so he would plead not guilty and accept the prosecutor's statement of facts.

"To us, a not guilty plea and a statement of facts is the same aa guilty plea," Ms. Ferris said. "My goal was not to get a civil case for them. That would be unethical. My goal was to get a conviction. I thought that was the victim's goal."

The prosecutor added that she agreed to drop the rape charge because she was not sure she could get a conviction.

"There were a number of people who came forward saying the victim said it wasn't rape, and that she would have a big civil case," Ms. Ferris said, although she pointed out that the victim denied making such statements. "Getting those witnesses on makes the trial of a rape case very difficult."

Although the victim was angry about the plea, she also said she was "really happy" that Ziegler was "resigning from the force and that this will not happen to anyone else."

She said she agreed to drop the rape charge because "I don't know if I could handle going through a trial. I have a lot of more important troubles to deal with." She would not elaborate.

Ziegler brushed off questions with a loud "no comment" as he left the courtroom with Mr. May and relatives.

In 1979, a Glen Burnie woman alleged that Ziegler, who had broken up a fight in the parking lot of her apartment complex early one August morning, asked to use her telephone, then raped her while her children slept in a nearby bedroom.

Warren B. Duckett Jr., then state's attorney, decided not to prosecute because of a lack of evidence, according to police records. But Maxwell V. Frye, then police chief, suspended Ziegler for 30 days for conduct unbecoming an officer.

Mr. Duckett, now a judge, and Mr. Frye, who is retired, both said last week they could not remember the case.

V. Richard Molloy, county police spokesman, said last week that there was little more Mr. Frye could have done "if they didn't have a case they could take to court."

In the 1984 case, Ziegler answered a complaint of indecent exposure and was told by the woman that she had been raped, Mr. Molloy said. Ziegler failed to file the report and a few days later called the woman and told her to tell other officers that she did not report the rape, Mr. Molloy said.

According to the statement of facts read yesterday, the Crofton victim admitted that she had been drinking heavily at a tavern on Mountain Road in Pasadena last Nov. 14 and had argued with a friend of hers, who left the bar.

She left the bar about 1:30 a.m., intent on going to the friend's home, but was stopped by Ziegler on suspicion of drunken driving. When the woman told him that she feared her children would be taken from her if she were arrested, he said he would drive her home, Ms. Ferris recounted.

But he drove past the entrance to the Crofton subdivision where she lived with her parents and instead went to the parking lot of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church. He got out of the car, undressed, got back in, pulled down the victim's pants and "had sexual intercourse with her," Ms. Ferris read.

The victim, sitting in the front row of the courtroom, buried her head in her hands as she listened to the statement.

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