Sheriff's Office says deputy who used stun gun acted with appropriate force

June 06, 1993|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Staff Writer

A deputy who used a stun gun in the courtroom to quiet two unruly cuffed, gagged and shackled defendants May 28 acted within the sheriff's policy on use of force, a Sheriff's Office official said.

The report of the incident filed by the deputy, Deputy 1st Class Tommie W. Prevette, was consistent with reports filed by three other deputies present and with several witnesses' accounts in interviews with The Sun.

Any time the stun gun is used a report has to be filed, according to departmental policy.

Deputy Prevette used the stun gun, an electronic device that can deliver up to 50,000 volts, on both the defendants after they had resisted a judge's order to leave the courtroom because of their unruly behavior.

The co-defendants, Mark J. Woodlock, 29, and Aaron T. McCoy, 32, both of Philadelphia, were convicted May 28 of robbing P.M. Creations at the Festival in Bel Air on Oct. 12, 1992.

Woodlock and McCoy are to be sentenced July 22.

After reviewing reports from Cpl. Charles Klein, Cpl. Gary Tingler and Deputy Barbara Johnson as well as Deputy Prevette's account, Lt. Col. Thomas P. Broumel, chief deputy of the sheriff's office, said he believed Deputy Prevette used the "least amount of force available to him, short of taking no action at all."

Lt. Col. Broumel said the use-of-force policy adopted by Sheriff Robert E. Comes was revised about two years ago. The matter still will be presented to the sheriff's force review committee when that panel meets July 14.

The sheriff's use-of-force policy is specific about when deadly forcemay be used, but leaves the use of nonlethal force to the discretion of the deputy.

The policy further states: "In exercising that discretion, deputies are advised that their guiding consideration should be the minimization of injury to the person against whom they apply force, to innocent bystanders and to themselves."

During their two-day trial in Harford Circuit Court, Woodlock and McCoy shouted so many profane threats and obscenities that Judge Maurice W. Baldwin had them handcuffed and shackled and removed from the courtroom several times.

Woodlock and McCoy persisted with their boisterous behavior, and Judge Baldwin also ordered them to be gagged, said prosecutor William G. Christofero.

"The deputies did not have proper gags on hand and had to use strips of [gauze] cloth, which didn't work," said Robert N. Winkler, a public defender representing McCoy.

Even while gagged, McCoy and Woodlock continued to interrupt their trial. The judge excused the jury several times and warned the defendants.

Six extra deputies, including Deputy Prevette, were called in after one juror jumped to her feet and headed toward a door, apparently fearing the defendants would get free. Usually a courtroom procedure requires only one or two deputies.

"Judge Baldwin did everything he could for the defendants, but that's when he had to order them taken out of courtroom," Mr. Winkler said.

Deputy Prevette showed the stun gun to McCoy, commanded him to comply with the judge's order, and when the defendant failed to do so, the deputy activated the device against McCoy's thigh.

The defendant was then ushered from the courtroom by four deputies.

Deputy Prevette then turned his attention to Woodlock, who apparently had locked his feet around the leg of the trial table.

"It was so loud, I was concentrating on making sure the court reporter could hear me when I heard my client say he was stung," said Thad Lautz, the public defender representing the 6-foot-9-inch Woodlock. "He was on his feet and then collapsed right to the floor."

"I thought [the deputy's using] the stun gun made things worse," Mr. Winkler said.

"There was no attempt by anyone to do anything wrong," Mr. Lautz said. "Was it [stunning the defendant] excessive? Certainly, but I can't say it was wrong."

Mr. Lautz added that he thought using the stun gun in front of the jury affected the trial, but probably didn't alter the outcome.

"Any time a jury is exposed to that kind of restraint . . . the defendants become guilty people on trial," he said. "They are guilty of bad behavior, guilty of being loud and obnoxious, and it's just a short step to go to find them guilty of the charges."

At the trial, evidence showed McCoy and Woodlock were arrested in October on charges of robbing the jewelry store owners, Paul and Jan Metzner, of two bracelets worth about $6,000.

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