Howard theft case dismissed

judge says suspect held too long

July 12, 1999|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

The judge said police did excellent work connecting a suspect to stolen lumber from an Ellicott City construction site.

But he reluctantly dismissed the case Friday morning after hearing how Howard County police officers investigated the theft alleged to have occurred March 18 from Chateau Builders in the 2200 block of Merion Pond.

Police stopped Gregory Goods on Route 99 about 2 a.m. that day and then detained him for 20 minutes as they tried to determine whether he had stolen the wood from the construction site.

"There's no question the officers had suspicion" to investigate Goods, said Howard County District Court Judge James N. Vaughn.

"But they should have let him go. I'm obligated to find the defendant not guilty."

Vaughn asked Assistant State's Attorney David Lank for legal cases to support the police investigation that came after the traffic stop of Goods, 50, near Dorchester Way.

"How are you going to recover?" Vaughn asked Lank after the defense attorney, Denise Banjavic, made a motion to suppress evidence gathered after the traffic stop. "How can [the police] hold this individual [even] after all this good police work?"

After the trial, Banjavic told police that Vaughn "didn't like what he did."

The constitutional question involved how long police could reasonably detain Goods after Sgt. Daniel Coon pulled him over.

Coon testified that he noticed Goods driving and weaving in his red pickup truck near the construction site.

He also testified that he noticed lumber covered with mud stacked in the truck's bed.

Coon said he stopped Goods to see whether alcohol might be responsible for his erratic driving.

An off-duty Howard officer, Sgt. George Belleville, happened to arrive, inspected the truck and spoke briefly with Goods.

Belleville said he grew suspicious after noticing that Goods was sweating and the wood was splattered with fresh mud.

Also, police had been alerted to a number of thefts from construction sites, Belleville said.

He said he drove to the nearby development and noticed that a large stack of 4-by-9-foot pieces of wood appeared to be missing from a larger pile.

He also examined tire prints in the mud, which closely resembled the tire treads of Goods' truck, Belleville testified.

A later comparison showed the tire and tread marks matched, he said.

Police also inspected the wood in Goods truck and said it had the same paint and manufacturer's markings as wood at the construction site. After contacting the construction company, police charged Goods in the theft of $826 worth of lumber.

Despite the good work, Vaughn said, police didn't have any reason to detain Goods while they investigated a hunch that he stole the wood, especially because no one had reported thefts that morning.

Officers should have let him go after Goods told them that a friend had given him the wood, Vaughn said.

Banjavic said she supported Vaughn's ruling.

"He's not a pro-defense lawyer judge," Banjavic said.

Outside the courtroom after the trial, Banjavic and police officers discussed and argued about the ruling.

Police said they would make the same stop again. Banjavic said they went too far.

Goods said his attorney "didn't do nothing" for him, and he accused police officers of targeting him because he's black.

Pub Date: 7/12/99

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