Denton police upheld for measures at fracas Some are critical of investigation

June 04, 1993|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

DENTON -- Police in this small Caroline County town acted properly when they used batons and pepper spray to control an angry crowd outside a teen dance last winter, according to portions of a report of a Maryland State Police investigation released yesterday by town officials.

Allegations that members of the all-white police force singled out black youths for rough treatment when a Jan. 24 dance erupted into a melee stirred racial unrest in this usually quiet county seat of about 3,000 residents. Black parents marched in the streets to protest what they charged was police brutality against their children.

Although he said he was "appreciative and relieved" with the inquiry's findings, a somber Denton Mayor Randolph P. Moore said yesterday that concern about what happened at the dance should be used to help resolve racial concerns in Denton.

"We recognize this incident has brought to the forefront many issues which may not have otherwise surfaced," he said. "If not addressed, the lessons learned from the evening of Jan. 24 and the events that followed will be for naught."

While the state police investigation, which was requested by Denton Police Chief William C. Davis, looked only into allegations that town officers had acted improperly, some residents questioned the scope of the inquiry.

"I have a feeling that the whole investigation lacks fairness," said James A. Perkins, the county NAACP president. Mr. Perkins said the role of the volunteer fire company, which was holding the dance as a fund-raiser, should have been examined.

And Caroline County Circuit Judge J. Owen Wise, who presided over the trial of a juvenile arrested at the dance, said the report does not address perceptions that police and white fire fighters were racially motivated when they attempted to handle the crowd.

"Questions still linger out there," he said, adding that testimony in the juvenile trial indicated that black youths thought they were being segregated from their white counterparts at the dance.

The teen dance, which was held at the Denton fire hall, turned into a fracas after volunteer firemen acting as chaperones stopped the event because of fighting and refused to refund the $4 admission fee.

When two town officers arrived to control the crowd, scuffling broke out between the youths and police. By the time the crowd was dispersed, backups from seven nearby law enforcement agencies had been called and two black teen-agers had been arrested.

State police investigators interviewed more than 100 people and took four months to complete their inquiry into the incident. The 50-page report includes the following findings:

* No officer pulled out a gun, although several witnesses may have mistaken police batons for revolvers.

* A juvenile who told investigators that police ripped his shirt was seen tearing his own clothing as he walked away from the fire hall.

* Police used batons to control the crowd, and several youths may have been struck when one officer used his "in an inappropriate manner" to ward off an attack by a group of youths.

* Volunteer firefighters turned on a fire hose briefly to spray some in the crowd.

The Denton Police Department does not own a canine unit, but Chief Davis said other agencies' police dogs were used to help control the crowd. "No one got bit," he said.

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