Police misconduct reports disrupt Essex Precinct In latest case, veteran officer charged with assault, kidnapping

October 13, 1995|By DAN THANH DANG | DAN THANH DANG,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Patrick Gilbert and Liz Atwood contributed to this article.

Indecent exposure, assault, a faked gunshot wound -- the list reads like a police blotter.

But each of the incidents, which occurred within the past 12 months, involved Baltimore County Police officers from the Essex Precinct. And this week, the precinct suffered another blow, as an 11-year veteran was charged with assaulting and kidnapping a United Parcel Service driver in Timonium.

As precinct commanders redouble efforts to remind officers that misconduct will not be tolerated, each troubling incident puts the integrity of the department and its officers at stake.

While some community leaders still have confidence in the precinct, others wonder whether more can be done to prevent further problems.

"What is going on out in Essex?" asked Lt. Timothy Caslin, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #4. "It's an extremely busy station with many calls for service. I can't help but wonder about manpower shortages and other stresses of the job that can contribute to officers and how they act.

"I think that they should try to determine if there is something wrong, not only in Essex, but with police officers throughout Baltimore County who are experiencing stress," Lieutenant Caslin said.

County Councilman Louis L. DePazzo, who represents part of Essex, said the precinct always has been tough for officers because of drugs and crime in the area. "And along with that goes a morale problem," said Mr. DePazzo, who said morale has improved with Major Kim Ward, the new precinct commander.

The precinct answers about 63,000 calls a year. In 1994, 4,000 arrests were made, said Capt. James W. Johnson, precinct operations commander.

Among the county's nine precincts, Essex has generated the most complaints about officers using force -- there were 30 incidents from 1991 to 1994, according to the internal affairs unit.

Essex was also third in the county with 91 incidents for misconduct, behind the traffic unit and Woodlawn Precinct.

In allegations of brutality, the precinct led the county with 74 cases, but tied for last with incidents involving allegations of discrimination and harassment.

In some categories, the precinct's performance has improved in recent years.

Still, the recent cases of misconduct stunned the precinct.

Last fall, Officer Angie Calloway, who shot herself in the leg, was suspended after an administrative inquiry ruled that she failed to report the incident accurately.

She later resigned.

In May, Officer John J. Johnson was arrested in Baltimore for indecent exposure. While the department has recommended that he be fired, Officer Johnson has requested a departmental trial board to review his case.

Last month, Officer William R. Goodman was indicted and charged with brutality and a violation of Maryland's hate crimes law for allegedly beating a prisoner. He is awaiting a criminal trial and administrative board hearing.

Tuesday, Officer Joseph Goetz, a man described by fellow officers and supervisors as "competent, harmless and very low key," was charged with assault and kidnapping a UPS driver.

Officer Goetz, who is out on bail, has been suspended without pay pending an investigation.

All but one incident involved off-duty officers. And all those accused except Officer Calloway work the permanent midnight shift.

The issue is not whether police misconduct exists, but whether it is dealt with, county police Chief Michael D. Gambrill said.

"The department is comprised of nearly 1,500 individuals, humans complete with faults, and mistakes will be made," he said. "What's important is that when an officer is accused of wrongdoing, we investigate and take action.

"I'm confident in the leadership at the Essex Precinct. The commanders had no indication or warning that either of these officers would take these actions."

Essex Precinct officers have won numerous civic and national awards for its excellence in policing, Captain Johnson said.

In fact, Essex officers have won the Baltimore Police Officer of the Year award two out of three years.

"None of these individuals gave us prior warning," said Captain Johnson, who has been addressing the issue of misconduct with his officers in roll call meetings.

He added, "We've got to examine the department's training and hiring of the individuals. What can be done in the future to screen our officers and what kind of education and performance appraisals are they receiving while on the job? What can be changed to prevent this sort of behavior?"

Police officials say there are more than enough resources for officers who need help. Officers can approach supervisors and colleagues, or seek counseling available through the department.

And some community leaders say the recent incidents of misconduct are not a reflection of the entire department or precinct.

Rev. Isaiah Hill, pastor of First Baptist Church of Back River, said that despite some past problems, relations with the precinct generally have been good.

"I don't believe in throwing the baby out with the bath water," said Mr. Hill, who praised Chief Gambrill and Captain Johnson. "We have some very good people at the helm."

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