Sheriff to question teacher about brutality accusation

July 08, 1998|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

Frederick County Sheriff Jim Hagy is scheduled to interview a schoolteacher today to investigate claims that deputies physically abused her when they arrested her for driving too slowly.

Ester Maria Pena, 58, of Washington, was stopped June 12 on U.S. 15 near Thurmont. She was arrested after failing to stop her car for deputies until 3 1/2 miles after they turned on their blue lights.

Pena and the deputies agree on that much. But Pena also said that Deputy John Keyser pointed his revolver at her while roughly grabbing her from the car. She was pushed face-down against the trunk of her car, handcuffed and taken to the Frederick County Detention Center, where her legs were shackled for three hours while she awaited a bail review.

The sheriff has said the handcuffing and shackling is standard procedure. "Without question the arrest and charges are appropriate," the sheriff said yesterday in a telephone interview. "The question is whether she was treated appropriately."

He has also defended deputies who were criticized for beating a diabetic man whom they mistook for a drunken driver about 12 hours after the incident with Pena.

The cases have brought Frederick County publicity that it rarely sees. The diabetic told his story on NBC's "Today Show," Pena was interviewed yesterday by the "CBS Evening News," and the FBI announced last week it would look into both matters.

Hagy said the attention is causing his deputies to second-guess themselves on the streets.

"It's taken a toll on the whole agency," he said. "When you start hesitating about everything, you really put yourself in danger. I'm afraid one of my deputies [is] going to get killed."

Pena's attorney said yesterday that her client clearly posed no danger to deputies, and their treatment of her was unnecessary.

The attorney, Laura Kelsey Rhodes of Rockville, said she intends to file a formal complaint with the Sheriff's Department within 10 days. Pena is also considering a civil lawsuit, the attorney said.

"This is a far way from over," Rhodes said.

Pena faces charges of fleeing and eluding police and of impeding the flow of traffic. She was driving 38 mph in a 55 mph zone, according to the charges.

Her attorney said it may be true the first deputy followed Pena for 3 1/2 miles, but there were cars between the cruiser and Pena during much of that distance.

Pena, who was on her way to a church luncheon with a female companion, did not realize she was being pulled over until just before she brought her 1976 Dodge to a stop in the left traffic lane, Rhodes said, adding there was no left shoulder to use and a second cruiser prevented her from using the shoulder on the right side of the road.

The FBI announced last week that it has begun a preliminary inquiry into the incident.

Separately, FBI agents are inquiring about the case of Frederick Moore IV, who was involved in an altercation with Frederick County deputies shortly after the incident with Pena. Officers said Moore had been driving erratically and they had to force his pickup truck off U.S. 340.

Officers allegedly beat him with a nightstick, sprayed him with pepper spray and unleashed a police dog on him when his only response to their commands was growling.

Charges against him were dropped when tests determined he had not been drinking but was suffering from diabetic shock.

Pub Date: 7/08/98

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