Police Trial Board Undecided In Excessive Force Case

November 03, 1991|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff writer

A police trial board investigating charges of excessive force by twocounty officers failed to reach a decision Thursday after several hours of deliberation and will resume again Tuesday.

The board is charged with determining whether officers Victor Riemer and Ricky Johnson used excessive force while breaking up a January 1990 beer party at the Red Roof Inn in Jessup, which was attended by local teen-agers.

Two of the partygoers, Mickey Bowie and his now-deceased twin brother, Carl "Jon" Bowie, alleged that the officers beat them up beforearresting them on a variety of charges, including resisting arrest. Mickey Bowie is awaiting trial on those charges.

The case created a furor in the community after Jon Bowie was found hanged from a baseball backstop at Oakland Mills High School four months after the party.

His death was ruled a suicide, but friends of the family have said that police played a role in it.

The police trial board, whichconsists of three county police officers, began hearing evidence in the excessive force case against the officers in August, then took a two-month recess.

After hearings Oct. 17, 19 and 20, the prosecution rested its case.

The defense was to have presented its case Wednesday. However, defense attorney Clarke F. Ahlers decided instead togo directly to closing arguments.

The defense presented only one witness -- Sgt. Rufus Caple of the State Police -- who testified during the prosecution's case due to scheduling problems.

Neither Riemer nor Johnson testified in their own defense.

Ahlers would not comment on his decision to use only one witness or why the two officersdid not testify.

County solicitor Mark McCurdy, who is acting as prosecutor in the case, said during closing arguments that Johnson hit Mickey Bowie in the eye with a flashlight, and Riemer repeatedly smashed Bowie's face into the ground with his forearm after Bowie was handcuffed and lying on the ground.

"If Ricky Johnson hit him in the eye with the flashlight, it was excessive force.

"If Mickey Bowie was handcuffed and lying on the ground, despite what his language was, to bang his face into the concrete over and over again -- it was excessive force," McCurdy said.

"You can't justify this on the grounds that they were loud-mouthed drunks," McCurdy added. "If these officers can't live up to their training, they should find some other line of work."

In statements to the police Internal Affairs Division during its initial investigation, Riemer said Bowie resisted arrestand several times tried to get up despite orders to lie on the ground.

"I was trying to keep him from getting up. I wanted to keep control of him. He was being violent," Riemer said during the IAD interview.

In an attempt to show that pushing Bowie's head down was unnecessary, McCurdy took off his jacket and laid face down on the floor.

Arching his head back, he told board members it is impossible to get up by lifting the head, if one's hands are tied behind the back.

"The laws of gravity and the laws of your own body won't allow it," he said.

In his closing argument, Ahlers said it was "a disgraceand an outrage" how the two officers had been treated since the incident, adding that they had been put through numerous investigations and treated like criminals.

"The message these officers have gottenfor 22 months is perverse," he said.

The officers' actions were necessary to control disorderly and drunken teen-agers, he said.

The message being sent by the police department, which charged the officers last November, is that police officers cannot defend themselves against potential injury, he said.

McCurdy said the officers were trained to act professionally and should not have been provoked to violent behavior.

"What we have here is a very simple case," he said. "Did Mickey Bowie get hit in the eye by Ricky Johnson? Did Victor Riemer beat up Mickey Bowie?"

McCurdy said photographs, taken when Bowie was being booked for resisting arrest, show injuries to his eyeand chin. Even without testimony from prosecution witnesses, McCurdysaid the photographs show Bowie had been roughed up.

"Those photos are an immutable truth. They won't go away," he said.

A grand jury investigation into the incident last year acquitted the officers of criminal charges. But the internal review by the police department is not linked to the grand jury investigation, and the trial board could independently determine that excessive force was used.

If the officers are found guilty of violating police procedures, the board will recommend appropriate sanctions to the chief of police.

PoliceChief James N. Robey ultimately would determine the officers' punishment, McCurdy said. Disciplinary measures could range from a reprimand to dismissal.

If sanctioned by Robey, the officers have a right to appeal their case to the county's Circuit Court.

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