Almost a year after department charges were filed, a Howard County police trial board has cleared two officers of using excessive force in the 1990 arrest of twin brothers, one of whom was later found hanged.
The board ruled last night that officers Victor Riemer and Ricky Johnson did not use excessive force against Mickey and Carl Jonathan Bowie, then 19, while breaking up a loud party at a Jessup motel Jan. 5, 1990. The brothers lived in Columbia's village of Oakland Mills.
"I just feel relieved," Johnson commented after the verdict. "I wouldn't have wanted any of this to happen."
Some officers and supporters in the briefing room at police headquarters applauded the decision and congratulated Riemer, a five-year veteran of the police department, and Johnson, an eight-year veteran.
But Sandra Keyser, the Bowies' mother, said the decision showed "a lack of integrity" by police and said the family will continue to seek justice in its $1.2 million federal lawsuit against the officers and the county.
The trial board, which consisted of a police captain, a sergeant and a patrolman, had met intermittently since Aug. 8 to hear testimony and arguments in the case.
Board members ruled unanimously that Johnson did not violate excessive-force guidelines or administrative procedures in conduct with the public while arresting the Bowies at the Red Roof Inn in Jessup.
The board ruled unanimously that Riemer did not violate guidelines on conduct with the public, but one member concluded that he had used excessive force. Still, the 2-1 vote in favor of Riemer cleared him of that charge.
In a tape-recorded interview, Riemer admitted to internal affairs investigators that he wrestled Mickey Bowie to the ground face-down outside the motel and got on top of him.
He said he then mashed Bowie's face into the ground several times to prevent him from rising to his feet.
Riemer said his action was justified because Bowie had been fighting him.
The case took a strange twist four months later when Carl Bowie was found hanged on a baseball backstop outside Oakland Mills High School. Police ruled the death a suicide, but the teen-ager's family and friends have contended that foul play was involved and that police failed to investigate adequately.
Mark D. McCurdy, a county lawyer who prosecuted the officers, said he had no expectations on how the board would rule and noted that the dissent in Riemer's case did not legally matter.
"The majority rules on a trial board, so a 2-1 decision is a complete decision," McCurdy said.
Keyser said she never had confidence in the board, but had "hoped against hope" it would prove her wrong.
"There's just a total lack of integrity," she said. "They know he [Riemer] did it. He admits he did it. And they let him get away with it. . . . My next move is to buy a video camera."
Keyser said the procedure involved an inherent conflict of interest because the county's law department prosecuted the officers while the same office is defending the officers and the county in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
The family's lawyer, Jo M. Glasco, also has complained about the structure of the trial board proceedings.
But County Solicitor Barbara Cook argued that the lawyer who prosecuted the officer and the lawyer who is defending the county in the civil suit have separate files and do not share information.