Howard Wal-Mart employee charged with assault

Police say dispute arose between worker, manager

January 27, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Employees at the Wal-Mart in Ellicott City said yesterday that tensions are running high after a fight Thursday between a store employee and his boss that resulted in the arrest of the employee.

Howard County police said they responded at 10 a.m. Thursday after a fight broke out at the store in the 3200 block of North Ridge Road between worker Darrell T. Powell, 28, of Silver Spring and his supervisor, Todd Zaken. Police said the fight resulted from an argument about whether Powell was late for work.

According to police, Powell was walking across the parking lot, away from the store, when they arrived. In his report, Officer Jason D. Starr said Powell ignored his repeated commands to stop and turn around. Starr then pepper-sprayed Powell and placed him under arrest, according to the report.

Powell was charged with two counts of second-degree assault. Police said Powell choked Zaken and punched employee Joe Sparenberg when he tried to intervene. Powell was fired by Wal-Mart, which has a zero-tolerance policy on violence by employees, corporate spokesman Tom Williams said.

An employee who witnessed the arrest but requested anonymity expressed surprise about the use of pepper spray because, the employee said, Powell was slowly walking away from the five police officers and did not strike at them as they approached. Powell fell to the ground after being sprayed in the face, the employee added.

"He refused to cooperate, resisted arrest and was sprayed with pepper spray," police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said of Powell. "The officers did what was necessary to take Mr. Powell into custody."

According to a second employee who also asked to remain anonymous, the fight started when Powell told Zaken that he had received permission to arrive late because of a doctor's appointment, but Zaken continued to upbraid him.

The incident exacerbated tensions between the store's white managers and black employees, the workers said. Powell is black, and Zaken is white.

"Things are really tense," the first employee said. "If this don't get better, something's going to happen. It's not over, and I'm not sure when it's going to be over."

Williams said he was unaware of any underlying racial tensions within the store.

Sun staff writer Mark Ribbing contributed to this article.

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