Police handling of teen killing found lacking

Young witnesses cuffed, held in cells, Howard report finds

March 10, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

An internal investigation into Howard County police actions the January night two teens were shot at a Columbia motel has found that young witnesses were taken to the police station in handcuffs and kept in holding cells, and that parents weren't notified for hours.

Calling the actions of a few supervisors "inappropriate," police officials said that they and an officer who accidentally fired his shotgun in a motel hallway will face disciplinary proceedings. The investigation will also be used as a "case study" in supervisor training, police said yesterday.

In releasing results of the internal investigation, police officials endorsed most decisions made by police the night Andre Devonne Corinaldi, 18, was killed and Lauren Nicole Perkins, 17, was seriously injured at a party.

For example, witnesses at the party were immediately handcuffed and searched - an important safety precaution because police did not know whether the gunman was among them, according to a news release on the findings.

But the investigation also turned up problems - mainly in the handling of witnesses.

Witnesses were kept in handcuffs while they were taken to the Scaggsville police station for interviews because officers hadn't performed gunshot residue tests, which would pinpoint anyone who had recently fired a gun, according to the release. That was "inappropriate," as was a decision to place three of the 16 witnesses in holding cells, police said.

In addition, some juvenile witnesses were kept at the Southern District station for three or four hours before their parents were contacted - a decision that will prompt a policy review.

"The supervisors each made hundreds of decisions that night, and each one may have made one inappropriate decision," said police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn. "They all had the best intentions."

The report's findings come two months after the shooting Jan. 13, which took place during a party at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel in Columbia. Shamal I. Chapman, 20, of the 6700 block of Waterloo Road in Jessup, was later charged with murder, attempted murder and related charges.

A few days after the shooting, the parent of one party-goer e-mailed Howard County police Chief Wayne Livesay to complain, saying witnesses had been harassed and handcuffed.

Police said yesterday that parent Kevin L. Antoine's complaint, combined with a report that Officer John Jacobs had accidentally fired a shotgun into a hallway floor, prompted the internal review.

All of the officers and supervisors involved in the investigation that night, as well as the party-goers, were interviewed for the internal review, Llewellyn said.

Contacted yesterday, Antoine, of Teaneck, N.J., criticized police actions after the party and said he may file a federal lawsuit.

His daughter, he said in a prepared statement, had stayed at the hotel to "assist the officers" but instead found herself handcuffed and "detained for hours." She wasn't allowed to call her mother and was questioned without a lawyer's help, he said.

"While I commend the Police Department on conducting what appears to be an impartial internal investigation, my attorney has advised me that [my] daughter's Fourth and Fifth Amendment constitutional rights appear to have been violated," Antoine said, adding that his attorney had advised him not to comment further.

Llewellyn said that the witnesses and parents of those under 18 were invited to a meeting Thursday to discuss results of the internal investigation. Only one parent showed up, she said, and that parent was complimentary toward the department.

Antoine's complaint was the only one police received, and the department received positive notes from other parents, Llewellyn said.

Police released the results of the internal investigation yesterday but not the report itself, citing personnel and privacy issues. Still, the results revealed both the good and the bad of the investigation, explaining both when proper procedure was used and when it was not.

Police also noted how supervisors planned to correct problems.

In addition to the disciplinary proceedings and the training, certain policies - including shotgun use and police procedure for notifying juveniles' parents - will be reviewed to see if they must be changed or clarified, police said.

Police stressed that the investigation found that "overall" the decisions made by officers the night of the shooting were appropriate. The news release noted a "chaotic crime scene" and the need to interview witnesses in a "safe setting."

"Overall, we are pleased with the actions of our officers the night of this terrible incident," Llewellyn said. "We have already begun reviews of some departmental policies in an effort to ensure that appropriate action will be taken in future situations."

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