When the wife of County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-District 3, gota speeding ticket on March 17, something the officer said offended her. She called the department to complain.
When the officer was asked his side of the story, he refused to tell his superiors about it unless his attorney were present.
Legal counsel was unnecessary, his superiors said, since the worst that could happen would be for the officer to receive counseling about how to deal with similar situations in the future.
Now, his attorney, Clarke F. Ahlers, says the issue is far more serious. So serious, in fact, that he is asking State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelliand State's Attorney William Hymes to determine whether the department is guilty of criminal misconduct. Ahlers says he believes it is.
Officer Michael Thorn "may suffer termination for insubordination" because of his steadfast adherence to advice from Ahlers that he not submit to questioning unless Ahlers is present, Ahlers said.
According to Sandra Gray, the incident occurred at about 10:30 p.m. on March 17. She said was driving home on U.S. 29 after having brought her husband some eye drops so he could continue with a County Council hearing.
"The traffic was slowing down to 35 to 40 miles an hour in a55-mile-an-hour zone," she said. "It seemed strange. I kept looking around to see if anything happened. When I saw nothing, I decided to pass the traffic at a tad under 55.
"When I exited onto (Route) 175, (the officer) stopped me and said I was being disrespectful to pass him when he was in front of a line of traffic. I disagreed."
After checking the car's turn signals, the officer returned and issued her a ticket for going 63 mph in a 55-mph zone, she said.
"I told him I doubted it," she said, "I told him I did not think I would deliberately pass a police officer at a speed in excess of that allowed inthe zone. He said I could take it to court and I told him I would."
Before pulling away, she recorded the incident on a church newsletter. She called the police department when she got home.
"The issue was that he said I was being disrespectful," she said. "I am not inthe habit of being disrespectful to people. In my view, I try to respect people and have people respect me."
She said she talked with Sgt. William J. McMahon about the incident. "He told me that now thathe had my perspective, he needed the officer's perspective," she said. "As far as I know, that's where it stands."
Ahlers contends otherwise. He told Chief James N. Robey in a three-page letter March 28 that the conduct of McMahon in asking Thorn to tell him about the incident without counsel present is "unlawful."
It is "openly political, illegal and outrageous -- an intentional violation state law and of the officers' bill of rights" for the department to demand to talkto Thorn without an attorney present or without tape recording or transcribing the interview, Ahlers said.
"It's a knee-jerk reaction to a complaint of a popular political figure's wife," Ahlers said. "Ihave no animosity toward C. Vernon Gray. I don't know that he's evenaware of what's happening. I think the police department is acting on its own."
The police department does not feel the particulars ofthis case fall under the law enforcement officers' bill of rights, said Sgt. Gary Gardner, a police spokesman. "It is at best a non-punitive counseling situation and we believe the (bill of rights provision) would not have applied.
"We did not yield to any political pressure and none was applied. This incident was reported and investigatedin the same fashion as any citizen's complaint."
Ahlers said he has no problem with Sandra Gray filing a complaint against Thorn.
"My problem is with the foolish, sophomoric games being played by the police department. Disparate treatment will trample on the rights of an officer."