Officer probing rink incident removed from case

October 23, 1994|By TaNoah V. Sterling | TaNoah V. Sterling,Sun Staff Writer

An Anne Arundel County police officer who was leading an investigation of alleged police brutality against youths at a Crofton skating rink has been removed from that job because he was at the scene.

Police Chief Robert P. Russell issued a letter Friday afternoon in which he said that Lt. Ronald Bledsoe "has been totally removed from the investigation" and that Lieutenant J. R. Thomas, a Western District patrol officer who has been transferred temporarily to the Internal Affairs Unit, "will lead the investigation until its conclusion."

The action came in response to a letter from Stuart Comstock-Gay, head of the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, raising concerns about a conflict of interest.

"Lt. R. D. Bledsoe may not be in a good position to conduct this investigation" because he was present at the rink the night of the incident, Mr. Comstock-Gay wrote.

Interviews regarding the case that had been scheduled Friday and yesterday with Lieutenant Bledsoe were canceled.

Lieutenant Thomas will look into allegations of more than 50 people who said they witnessed county officers using excessive force, profanity or racial slurs in the Sept. 30 incident in which seven people were arrested.

Chief Russell's letter to the ACLU said that Lieutenant Bledsoe was assigned to begin the inquiry "before we had a complete understanding of the magnitude of the situation," and that the task was "consistent with his normal supervisory responsibilities."

Detective Ronald Hines, a spokesman for the department, said Lieutenant Bledsoe was gathering the facts about the skating rink incident because it happened on his shift, but "now that it's compiled, it's been given to Lieutenant Thomas so that there is no conflict of interest," he said.

Lieutenant Thomas will be transferred temporarily to internal affairs, according to Chief Russell's letter.

Chief Russell sent the letter by fax to Mr. Comstock-Gay.

Mr. Comstock-Gay said his organization did not demand that Chief Russell remove Lieutenant Bledsoe but that he wrote his letter in the interest of fairness.

"Let me emphasize, we have nothing bad to say about Lieutenant Bledsoe," he said. "He was easy to work with. But I think it jeopardizes the objectivity of the report to have someone who was there investigating the case. If the report doesn't come out the way people want it to, they'll say how can we trust it?"

Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden invited parents and students to a meeting yesterday afternoon to update them on the case, and discuss future actions to take.

He added that in a political forum last week, county executive candidates Theodore J. Sophocleus and John G. Gary "committed themselves to releasing to the public the complete internal investigation report when this is done," Mr. Snowden said.

'I think that it's important that the public have access to the complete file to make sure that this is a judicious investigation," he added.

The ACLU has been conducting its own investigation into the incident while helping the police conduct their investigation.

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