Man is 1st fined in ban on watering

Public Works says ticket should be $100, not $20

Prosecutor's office disagrees

August 22, 2002|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Baltimore truck driver Robin Forbes was fined $20 yesterday for washing his car, becoming the first person convicted under the city's 12-day-old ban on nonessential outdoor watering.

But the outcome of Forbes' prosecution has sparked a legal debate between the city Department of Public Works and state's attorney's office over which of two paragraphs in the City Code applies in such cases -- one carrying a maximum fine of $100, and the other only $20.

City police officers are carrying watering-ban ticket books that specify a $100 fine for people caught sprinkling the grass, washing cars or hosing down the sidewalk.

But Assistant State's Attorney Patricia Deros, who prosecuted the Forbes case, said yesterday that the provision in city law carrying the $100 fine doesn't apply in water ban violations.

"It's incorrect," Deros said. Violations of the water ban fall under a separate subsection of the code that calls for a fine of "not less than $5, and not more than $20," she said.

Legal minds from DPW, the city Law Department and the state's attorney's office were expected to confer today to resolve the matter.

The city implemented the mandatory water restrictions Aug. 10 after falling water levels in the Susquehanna River forced DPW to reduce its use in supplementing the supply of Baltimore's drought-depleted reservoirs. The city began tapping the river in January as the drought worsened, pumping 137 million gallons a day. That rate was cut back this month to 64 million.

Forbes, 53, of Govans was in Tennessee when the ban went into effect. He got home Aug. 13 and was washing the road grime from his car on Govane Avenue when a city police officer drove up and ordered him to shut off the hose.

When he didn't comply immediately and did not produce identification, Forbes was arrested, handcuffed and taken to Central Booking and Intake Center, where he spent the night behind bars.

Officer Troy Harris, a city police spokesman, said Forbes was cited for violating the watering ban under Article 24, Section 1, Subsection 1, which carries a $100 fine. But he was arrested for failing to obey a police officer, Harris said.

"It's both together," Harris said. "The way the state's attorney worded it here, it covers the water citation and the officer's claim that he [Forbes] did not follow his order."

Deros, however, said there was no "failure to obey" charge. That would apply only if Forbes' behavior threatened a "breach of the peace," she said. "And he wasn't doing anything to cause breach of the peace."

"He only had one charge; that was the water restriction," Deros said. He was arrested because he didn't produce an ID.

"It's like a refusal to produce a driver's license" in a traffic case, she said. "If you can't ID who you are, you are allowed to be arrested for that purpose."

Forbes was convicted of the water ban violation by District Judge Ben C. Clyburn and fined $20.

Deros said she prosecuted the case under Article 24, Section 1, Subsection 6, which authorizes the director of public works to prohibit certain kinds of water outdoor uses when water supplies are low. But it allows fines of no more than $20 for each offense.

The $100 fines, she said, are part of a separate subsection -- Subsection 1 -- that pertains to "protection of water supplies and facilities." And that, she said, does not cover water ban violations.

But Harris, the city police spokesman, said the citation books that city officers are using to enforce the water ban are based on Subsection 1, and carry the $100 fine.

And that's the fine that Public Works Director George L. Winfield wants to hold over the heads of would-be water scofflaws in the city.

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