Harford councilman's battery conviction changed to probation before judgment Case involved female custodian

April 18, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

The battery conviction of Harford County Councilman Mark S. Decker, stemming from a hallway encounter with a female custodian, was changed at sentencing yesterday by a Baltimore County judge to probation before judgment.

Circuit Judge John Grason Turnbull II noted that the councilman had been subjected to more negative publicity than someone not in public office would have attracted in such a case.

Mr. Decker was found guilty of battery but acquitted of a sex-offense charge last month after a two-day trial. That criminal conviction will be stricken from Mr. Decker's record.

The case had been moved from Harford County and its courthouse building, where the councilman was charged with grabbing the breast of the custodian in a hallway Feb. 7, 1995.

"I can't say that I was surprised, but I think under the circumstances the judge judged me fairly and gave me probation before judgment based on the merits of the case," said Mr. Decker, 35, who represents Bel Air.

He said the news media attention to the case was impossible to ignore. "I don't think anybody likes seeing their name in the paper week after week," he said, adding that he had received phone calls from the media at his Bel Air liquor store.

Through it all, Mr. Decker said yesterday, his family and fellow council members supported him. "It could have been used as an opportunity to divide the council, and I think, quite honestly, the opposite happened," he said.

The prosecutor, Assistant Baltimore County State's Attorney Stephen R. Roscher, said the judge's decision -- which includes a year of unsupervised probation -- was appropriate. He said similar battery cases involving people who are not elected officials are usually handled at the lower District Court level and reach a similar conclusion.

The part-time custodian -- a 38-year old Havre de Grace resident who, in alleging a sex offense, has not been identified by The Sun -- charged that Mr. Decker touched her sleeve as a greeting, then grabbed her breast and a name tag on her clothing while she was changing garbage can liners in the court building.

Mr. Decker said during the trial that he touched her sleeve and asked about a patch on it but that he did not remember a name tag. He denied touching her breast.

Pub Date: 4/18/96

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