Howard County police case hearing opens with acrimony Two officers have been charged with using excessive force to break up 1990 teen party.

August 06, 1991|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Evening Sun Staff LHB

A hearing for two Howard County police officers facing excessive force charges has begun with the same acrimony that has prevailed between police officers and some residents since a Columbia teen-ager was found hanged last year.

Two key foes, defense attorney Clarke F. Ahlers and Maryland NAACP President the Rev. Robert Wright, engaged in a brief staring match in front of the trial board before the proceedings began.

The stare-down ended after Ahlers asked the board whether it would summon a police officer to protect him from Wright, a witness in the case. Ahlers then referred to the president of the Maryland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other adversarial witnesses as "street thugs."

County police officers Victor Riemer, a five-year veteran, and Ricky Johnson, a three-year veteran, are charged with using excessive force against Carl Jonathan Bowie and his twin brother, Mickey, of the Columbia village of Oakland Mills, while breaking up a teen-age party at the Red Roof Inn in Jessup on Jan. 5, 1990.

Wright is scheduled to testify later in the hearing, which is to continue through next Friday. He became involved in the matter when the Bowies sought his help in filing excessive-force complaints.

The twins charged that the officers had beaten them outside the motel room.

Four months later, "Jon" Bowie was found hanged on the backstop near Oakland Mills High School, and relations between the police and members of the family's Columbia community worsened after police ruled the death a suicide.

Residents complained that the department failed to adequately investigate the death and some even suggested publicly that Riemer somehow was responsible for Jon Bowie's death.

The incident since has been investigated by a county grand jury and the Maryland State Police, both of whom chose not to bring charges against the officers. A federal grand jury is investigating the matter.

The trial board hearing resulted after a county police internal affairs review found that Riemer and Johnson violated department procedures on excessive force and conduct with the public.

The three police officers selected at random to serve on the trial board, Capt. Richard Hall, Sgt. Edward Buckman and Officer Daniel Besseck, are to render a verdict at the end of the hearing.

If the officers are found in violation of procedures, Police Chief James N. Robey would be able to impose disciplinary measures ranging from a reprimand to dismissal.

In his opening argument yesterday, prosecutor Mark D. McCurdy, an attorney with the county's Law Department, said the officers arrived at the first-floor motel room to break up a party of 14 teen-agers -- eight girls and six boys -- involving alcohol between 11:30 p.m. and midnight on Jan. 5, 1990.

Shortly afterward, McCurdy said, "the last vestige of professionalism of our officers broke down."

He said Jon Bowie, who was 19 at the time, made sarcastic responses to Johnson's demands to be quiet and the officer took him outside. As Johnson was leading the teen-ager outside, Mickey Bowie approached the officer and grabbed his shoulder, McCurdy said.

The prosecutor said Johnson spun around and poked Mickey Bowie in the chest with a flashlight and that Riemer, who stands 6-foot-6, came from behind and lifted Mickey Bowie from his feet in a choke-hold with either his nightstick or a flashlight and carried him outside.

While Mickey Bowie was in Riemer's grasp, McCurdy said, Johnson punched him in the left eye.

He said Riemer later told Mickey Bowie he was under arrest and handcuffed him. McCurdy said the officer then proceeded to ram the teen-ager's face into the concrete pavement repeatedly, kick him and push his face into a police car. McCurdy also said Riemer elbowed Mickey Bowie in the face after attaching his seat belt inside the police car.

Two prosecution witnesses agreed in testimony that Riemer had Mickey Bowie in a choke-hold and hoisted him outside, but said they were unable to see what then happened. They said both officers used profanity during the incident.

Ahlers spent his cross-examination contrasting witness statements with those made to the Bowie family's lawyer and the grand jury. He claimed that some of the witnesses' statements were inconsistent and suggested that witness Christopher Ponds altered his story after realizing that parts of it conflicted with the Bowies' version.

Ponds said he left out details in other statements, but he asserted that he was consistent in saying that Riemer had Mickey Bowie in a choke-hold and forced him outside.

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