Police foul-ups in the Pilius case

February 25, 1992

As the story of the kidnapping and bludgeon slaying of Vitalis V. Pilius continues to unfold, it is vital that investigators get to the bottom of the repeated foul-ups by the State Police and the Motor Vehicle Administration.

The Pilius case has revealed troubling weaknesses in State Police and Motor Vehicle Administration procedures. So far, MVA officials have suspended one Mondawmin branch employee on suspicion that she sold fraudulent driver's licenses to a suspect in the case.

But if reports are true that criminals widely know how to get stolen licenses remade at the MVA with their own pictures, then a bigger ring may have been in operation. The Pilius case has raised so many questions they have to be answered and preventive measures taken to prevent similar tragedies from being repeated.

To recap: Mr. Pilius, a 37-year-old engineer, was kidnapped from a downtown parking garage and slain in a vacant East Baltimore rowhouse on Feb. 11. That night, a BWI airport car rental agent called the State Police to investigate the use of the victim's credit card by an 18-year-old suspect. Troopers released the youth after he produced the dead man's driver's license -- which the suspect had first mutilated and then taken to the Motor Vehicle Administration so that his own picture could be substituted. The rental car clerk realized something was fishy, but the troopers didn't.

The following day, a state trooper stopped the suspect, an 18-year-old black male, for speeding. By that time, Mr. Pilius, a 37-year-old white male, had been been reported missing. Despite the age and race difference that a routine check made clear to her, the trooper allowed the suspect to drive away with only a warning ticket.

Other errors also were made.

Item: Informed that Mr. Pilius -- whose documents he was showing -- was a 37-year-old white male, the trooper asked the 18-year-old suspect whether he was aware that the MVA had listed him as white. The suspect "said he had no knowledge of this but that he would correct the problem," The Sun's Roger Twigg and David Simon reported.

Item: When asked about Mr. Pilius being listed as a missing person, the suspect impersonating Mr. Pilius said his wife often reported him missing. The trooper took this answer at a face value.

Errors are human. But when errors by a number of people form a pattern, then procedures, personnel selection and training must be changed.

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