Trooper challenges disciplinary moves

April 16, 1994|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Sun Staff Writer

The state trooper who fatally shot a Baltimore motorist in Towson after a high-speed chase down Interstate 83 last April is challenging attempts to discipline him, saying the internal charge against him is too vague.

Tfc. Chad Hymel is accused of handling his gun improperly in the April 25, 1993, shooting of Antonio Carlos Towns. A state police trial board had been scheduled to convene in his case May 3.

However, Trooper Hymel's attorney, Michael L. Marshall, obtained a show-cause order from a Baltimore County judge last week, giving the state until April 25 to answer a request to postpone the hearing and to declare the charge unconstitutionally vague.

The charge against him -- failing to handle his pistol properly -- is "a generalized catch-all," according to the lawsuit. Yesterday, Mr. Marshall called the department's administrative action against Trooper Hymel "a public relations thing on their part."

Assistant Attorney General Mark H. Bowen, who represents the state police, defended the action and said the agency will FTC respond before the court's deadline.

"The officer is alleged to have violated the agency rules and regulations by carelessly handling his firearm, which resulted in the death of a citizen," Mr. Bowen said.

However, he said that "this was not an intentional shooting" and that the state is not seeking the trooper's dismissal.

If Trooper Hymel is found guilty of the administrative charge, Mr. Bowen said, the trooper's penalty -- such as loss of rank, leave time or pay -- would be determined in a second phase. Any penalty -- but not the finding of guilt or innocence -- is subject to modification by the state police superintendent.

A Baltimore County grand jury last June investigated the death of Towns, a 34-year-old hair salon owner, and found no criminal conduct by the trooper.

Police accounts indicated that Trooper Hymel's gun fired accidentally as he and Tfc. Nicholas J. Over were trying to arrest Towns on Charles Street at the Baltimore Beltway.

Police maintain that Towns was resisting arrest after a chase that began when his 1987 Corvette was clocked at 81 mph in a radar trap on Interstate 83, near Mount Carmel Road.

Towns had no criminal record, and no weapons, drugs or alcohol were found in his car or in the autopsy. His family and friends said they were baffled by his behavior. Witnesses said they saw no sign that he was resisting.

After a tour of administrative duty at the Golden Ring barracks, Trooper Hymel returned to patrol duty Sept. 3. He was assigned to the John F. Kennedy Highway barracks in Perryville.

The internal investigation was completed several months ago, Mr. Bowen said. The specific charge -- failing to holster his pistol -- falls under a regulation requiring that weapons be handled carefully.

According to copies of state police documents filed with the court action, "The suspect [Towns] was ordered several times to lay down on the ground . . . but failed to comply. Tfc. Over unexpectedly propelled the subject forward in an attempt to lower him to the ground. . . . Tfc. Chad Hymel failed to holster his weapon at this point and it discharged."

The bullet struck under Towns' right armpit and passed into his chest cavity.

"The improper and imprudent handling of a firearm by Tfc. Chad Hymel resulted in the untimely death of the suspect," the state police documents alleged.

Mr. Marshall had a different observation. "Here you have a guy who died -- tragically," he said. "If there were really something that he had done wrong, I think they would be able to identify that, instead of giving us these vague charges."

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