Curran seeks reversal by court on police-traffic stop ruling Decision endangers officers, he says

April 11, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Maryland's attorney general yesterday took the highly unusual step of asking the state's highest court to reverse itself, saying that its month-old decision on police traffic stops endangers the lives of officers across the state.

"The decision was very troubling and just plain wrong," Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said.

He pledged to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if his request is denied.

Mr. Curran is asking the Court of Appeals in a nine-page motion to reverse a March 13 decision that prohibits police officers making traffic stops from ordering passengers to remain in the vehicle.

Mr. Curran's motion -- the second such request in his nine years in the job -- comes in response to a deluge of complaints from police that the ruling makes traffic stops more dangerous.

Police say the decision undermines their authority and jeopardizes their safety by allowing passengers to roam freely while they question the driver of a vehicle they may have FTC stopped at night, on a busy highway or an isolated road.

"This decision, if allowed to stand, will one day cost a police officer his life," said Officer Gary McLhinney, a 16-year veteran and the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 3, which represents Baltimore officers.

Mr. Curran's request included letters of endorsement from the state police superintendent and from heads of other Maryland police and sheriff's organizations.

The court ruled unanimously that police officers may detain a passenger only if they have a "reasonable suspicion" that the passenger is involved in a crime.

Mr. Curran said that appellate courts in 12 other states have held that officers are allowed to detain passengers, with or without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

"This is a case that cries out for reconsideration," Mr. Curran said.

Police officers yesterday noted that the two state troopers who were the most recent victims of shootings in the line of duty were both killed during traffic stops.

Cpl. Ted Wolfe was fatally shot along Interstate 95 in Howard County five years ago and Trooper Edward Plank was killed last year in Somerset County.

Last month's ruling reversed convictions for disorderly conduct and battery against Bruce Lamont Dennis, a passenger in a car that was stopped after the driver ran a red light in Princess Anne in Somerset County on Nov. 27, 1993.

The driver sped away and finally pulled into a driveway, where Mr. Dennis got out and walked away, despite repeated police orders to stop.

An officer tackled and arrested Mr. Dennis.

Court of Appeals Judge Robert M. Bell said that even if the driver had ignored police orders to pull over, the officer had no reason to pursue Mr. Dennis.

Pub Date: 4/11/96

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