Officials at odds over handling of abuse case

Carroll prosecutors accused of targeting Howard police officer

Office defends actions

March 24, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

A complex domestic violence case brought against a Howard County police corporal by his estranged wife is budding into a feud between the Howard Police Department and the Carroll County state's attorney's office, which was specially appointed to prosecute the charges.

During a heated preliminary hearing Friday in Howard County District Court, Carroll County prosecutors said the Howard County Police Department was biased in its investigation of Cpl. Michael K. Williams, who is accused of threatening his estranged wife with a gun.

The felony assault charge alleges the corporal pointed a gun at Elizabeth Williams on Oct. 20 and demanded she drop another set of charges she filed against him in September.

Clarke Ahlers, the officer's lawyer, said during the hearing that the Carroll County state's attorney's office was ignoring the facts of the case to advance its agenda.

He said the state's attorney's office investigator who testified Friday had no interest in seeking the truth and worked only to provide prosecutors with a "poster child for domestic violence."

Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes has promoted his office's domestic violence unit as a model program in the state, saying it takes abuse very seriously and noting its pro-prosecution policy.

"The status or occupation of the defendant plays no part in our handling of any case," Barnes said in a telephone interview Friday.

After the hearing, Ahlers added that politics also might be influencing the prosecutors.

"There's a power struggle between Jerry Barnes and [Howard] police Chief Wayne Livesay," Ahlers said. "It's so great that the state's attorney did not even notify the Howard County police investigator to come to the preliminary hearing."

Barnes said, "I wouldn't know Livesay if I tripped over him."

Capt. Greg Marshall, who Ahlers said investigated the criminal charges against Williams, was not asked to testify during the preliminary hearing.

Instead, Carroll County Assistant State's Attorney Maria L. Oesterreicher called Gary W. Cofflin, a domestic violence investigator for Carroll County. Cofflin said he is a retired Maryland State Police sergeant.

"They called an investigator who wasn't there, took no notes and testified that he had no interest in the husband's side of the story," Ahlers said.

Oesterreicher said at the hearing that she did not involve Marshall because she viewed him as biased in favor of Michael Williams.

"I consider those comments very unprofessional and even unethical," said Livesay. "No one from the state's attorney's office has raised any issue to that effect with me, which I would expect them to do if there was a problem."

After the hearing, Oesterreicher said that she was not aware Marshall was investigating the November charges being discussed at Friday's hearing because Elizabeth Williams filed them through a court commissioner rather than through the Police Department. Marshall, she said, was investigating the earlier charges involving an alleged domestic violence incident that occurred Aug. 26.

Ahlers repeatedly attempted to raise issues about Elizabeth Williams' past during the hearing. During Cofflin's testimony, the lawyer asked whether he was aware of six previous domestic violence charges Elizabeth Williams had filed against three men, including two other police officers.

Oesterreicher countered that those questions were more appropriate for trial. She later said Ahlers' questions about Elizabeth Williams' past did not surprise her and that she would be prepared to address them at a trial.

Michael Williams was stripped of his police powers after the Aug. 26 incident during which, Elizabeth Williams said, her husband bit and assaulted her.

Howard County police visited the couple's Columbia home Aug 26. Oesterreicher said police officers took photographs of the wife's injuries, but when they did not file charges after a week, Elizabeth Williams filed them herself.

Livesay said the Police Department is interested only in "obtaining the facts, whatever they may be, good or bad." Until Michael Williams' criminal case is resolved, an internal investigation cannot be completed. He will remain assigned to administrative duties until then, Livesay said.

Retired Washington County Judge Daniel W. Moylan ruled Friday that prosecutors can proceed with the felony charge. Prosecutors have 30 days to bring the case before a grand jury or directly file a charge in Howard County Circuit Court.

Oesterreicher said she will not seek a grand jury indictment, which she said would be redundant to the preliminary hearing.

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