A county police officer indicted on a rape charge has resigned from the force and been found guilty of a misdemeanor misconduct charge.
In a plea agreement with the state's attorney's office, felony rapecharges against Michael Dennis Ziegler, 39, were dropped yesterday and he pleaded not guilty to one misdemeanor count of misconduct in office.
The agreement angered the attorney for the alleged rape victim, who claimed the prosecutor "double-crossed" him.
Ziegler waived hisright to a jury trial, and Cynthia Ferris, a county assistant state's attorney, described the evidence against him to Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr.
Thieme found Ziegler guilty and gave him a one-year suspended sentence, with five years' probation. The first year will be supervised. Zeigler has been suspended without pay by the department since the November indictment.
The 24-year-old Crofton woman,who had charged Ziegler raped her in his patrol car after he stoppedher for drunken driving, said she was happy that he will no longer be a police officer.
"It has happened to one other person, and right now I don't know if I could have handled a rape trial," said the mother of two. "Obviously, he is a state official, and this has been covered up."
The attorney for the woman, George B. Woelfel Jr., saidhe will file suit on her behalf in federal court charging Ziegler, the county police force and, possibly, the county government with violating her civil rights.
Ziegler has been suspended by the department twice in the last 11 years for misconduct involving women, one of which involved an allegation of rape.
Ferris said she would have had trouble prosecuting Ziegler on the Nov. 15 rape charge because of a problem with the witness' credibility.
"There was additional evidence that surfaced in the case -- having to do with the facts," she said. She refused to elaborate.
But Woelfel said Ferris "double-crossed" him by allowing Ziegler to plead not guilty.
Woelfel explained that a not-guilty plea, despite a conviction, cannot be used as evidence in a civil suit.
"That was the only reason we agreed to roll over and play dead," he said. "Now it will make a civil suit more difficult."
Ferris said she and Ziegler's attorney, Michael May, worked out the terms of the plea agreement before yesterday's hearing.
"My primary goal was to get a conviction," Ferris said. "It didn't matter to me how this was accomplished. My job is not to make a civil case for her."
After the 20-minute hearing, as the victim was leaving the courtroom, Ziegler's wife, who was sitting in the back, muttered at her.
Charging documents show the Nov. 15 incident began at about 1:30 a.m. while Ziegler was patrolling on Mountain Road in Pasadena. He stopped the Crofton woman on suspicion of drunken driving, took her license and ordered her into his marked car.
He told the woman he would drive her home, but instead drove her to the parkinglot of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church on Route 424.
Ferris told Judge Thieme that the woman admitted to being drunk, and during the car ride told Ziegler she was worried that an arrest would prompt authorities to take her children from her.
According to the court documents, Ziegler parked behind the building, got out of the car and tookoff his coat, shirt, gun and pants. He laid his gun on the back seat, got back into the car and took off the woman's underwear, the documents said.
He told the woman she would not be charged with drunkendriving if she cooperated, the documents said, and he raped her.
The woman was not charged with driving while intoxicated. She called police after he took her home.
The court records said Ziegler's radio was identified through the radio-dispatch system as the one used to call in the traffic stop to dispatchers. Investigators also found the woman's fingerprint on the passenger side door. She gave a physical description that matched Ziegler's.
In 1979, Ziegler was suspended 30 days -- the maximum penalty short of dismissal -- after a GlenBurnie woman filed a complaint charging he raped her.
"It's the same thing that happened to me," she said after hearing of the plea bargain. "They slapped his hand and told him he was a bad boy. The justice system really doesn't work."
The Glen Burnie woman said Ziegler told her he would charge her with prostitution if she did not have sex with him. The woman was not charged.
The woman picked Ziegler out of a stack of police photographs and passed a polygraph test conducted by state police. A physical examination was inconclusive because the woman had acknowledged having sex with her boyfriend hours before the alleged incident.
In a letter to police, then-State's Attorney Warren B. Duckett said there was not enough evidence to present the case to the grand jury or to criminally charge him.
Ziegler waived his right to an administrative hearing and then-Chief Maxwell Frye suspended him and reassigned him to an eight-month stint in communications before he returned to patrol.
In 1984, police sources said, Ziegler failed to file a report from a woman who said she had been raped. He talked the woman out of filing the report and, a few days later, returned to warn her not to tell any other officers that she had been raped.
"He was trying to rub up against me, and I was already in a state of shock," the woman said yesterday. "I just told him it was time to go home. His excuse was that he was trying to comfort me."
He kept in contact with the woman, and at one point tried to arrange a date, she said. He told her to call him at the station and say she was "Mrs. Brown" if other department members questioned her about the incident.