Activist claims he was injured in arrest Environmentalist, 73, says handcuffs were too tight

October 29, 1995|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Monroe G. Haines Sr. says he is suffering for defending his stream.

The 73-year-old environmentalist, known for his efforts to clean up a Westminster rivulet, says he sustained a hand injury last month when he was handcuffed too tightly by a state trooper while being arrested on charges of harassing a Westminster businessman.

At the time of the arrest, Mr. Haines was keeping tabs on Gary's Radiator Service to determine whether the owner, Gary Johnson, was dumping pollutants into a nearby storm drain that empties into the Longwell Branch, which the environmental activist has watched over for 12 years.

The state's attorney's office dropped the harassment and disorderly conduct charges against Mr. Haines, but he said he still feels the pain of the arrest in his injured left hand.

"The Maryland State Police need to answer to what goes on here," said Mr. Haines, who is considering filing a lawsuit against the law enforcement agency over his Sept. 9 arrest.

Tfc. Karl D. Wantz, the arrested officer according to court charging documents, could not be reached for comment. State police spokesman Lt. Greg Shipley said Mr. Haines had not filed a complaint with the state police.

Mr. Haines said his injuries have not deterred him from his efforts to protect the stream he calls "my Longwell Branch."

"I want to know what the devil is going on down there," he said.

Marcie S. Wogan, deputy state's attorney, said prosecutors dropped the charges against Mr. Haines because his actions did not constitute harassment.

"There's no way anyone can construe sitting on public property and observing a stream as harassing or annoying conduct," Ms. Wogan said. "We don't perceive it as our role as prosecutors to prosecute little old men trying to do something good."

Protector of waters

Over the past several years, Mr. Haines has developed a reputation as a fierce protector of the county's waters. His efforts to clean up the Longwell Branch led to the development of a $505,000 stream restoration project, which is just getting started. The effort is financed by federal, state and county money.

Mr. Haines spends much of his time monitoring the water quality of the Longwell Branch and is frequently in touch with environmental agencies, making them aware of potential violators of clean water laws.

But some of his targets don't appreciate his vigilance.

"He's become something of an irritation to people who have to respond to his concerns," said Stephen P. Bourexis, Mr. Haines' lawyer. "As a result of that fact, he's had some negative reactions to his work."

After years of Mr. Haines' scrutiny, Mr. Johnson's reaction was to complain to the state police that Mr. Haines was "annoying him by sitting across the street watching him," according to court charging documents.

A state trooper warned Mr. Haines to "quit watching and following Mr. Johnson."

Court records say that Mr. Johnson made a second call to the police when he spotted Mr. Haines sitting on a swing set at the playground of William Winchester Elementary School, across the street from Gary's Radiator Service. Mr. Haines was watching the radiator repair shop through a pair of binoculars.

Trooper Wantz approached Mr. Haines at the swing set, informed him he was under arrest for harassing Mr. Johnson and placed handcuffs on him, court charging documents said.

"I warned him the cuffs were cutting my hands, but he paid no attention," Mr. Haines said.

On the way to the Westminster state police barracks, Mr. Haines said, he repeatedly told Trooper Wantz that the cuffs were painful.

"I told him I have to see a doctor, but he ignored it," Mr. Haines said.

Trooper Wantz ordered Mr. Haines to get out of the car upon arrival at the barracks, but Mr. Haines said he told the officer that he needed to use his hands for support to stand up because of his arthritic spine.

Mr. Haines said the trooper grabbed his shoulder to hurry him out of the car and that he fell to the ground on his left elbow when he attempted to get out.

Dr. E. F. Shaw Wilgis, the Lutherville hand surgeon who treated Mr. Haines, said it is likely that the numbness and pain in his left hand, wrist and elbow resulted from the handcuffs.

In a letter to Dr. Daniel Welliver, Mr. Haines' family doctor, Dr. Wilgis wrote: "I feel that he sustained a contusion injury from the handcuffs which were applied."

Dr. Wilgis added, "I think this will probably resolve with time."

At the barracks, Mr. Haines said, he was fingerprinted, photographed and placed in a holding cell.

Mr. Johnson would not comment on Mr. Haines' activities in relation to his business.

Numerous inspections

Since 1993, state investigators have conducted between 40 and 50 inspections of Mr. Johnson's shop in response to Mr. Haines' requests and have found no environmental violations, said Quentin Banks, a spokesman with the state Department of the Environment. The most recent inspection was Oct. 17.

Mr. Banks said Mr. Johnson "makes a good faith effort" to clean up any leaking liquids and recycles the antifreeze he collects.

"Every time Mr. Haines calls, we go out there," Mr. Banks said. "From our perspective, we've found no health problems or any significant environmental impact."

Over the years, Mr. Haines has brought several of his concerns relating to the Longwell Branch to the attention of state environment officials.

"Some of his complaints have been right on the money and we've been able to take action," Mr. Banks said. "Other things haven't checked out."

Ms. Wogan said that Mr. Haines did not inform the state's attorney's office of the handcuffing incident, but said she plans to look into it.

"It if is true, then I want to take some internal action," she said. "This is not something that should be occurring."

Ms. Wogan said prosecutors have spoken to Mr. Haines and Mr. Johnson to let both men know what their rights are under the laws addressing harassment.

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