Arrest in assault case is called `team effort'

Officer lauded for his role in capture and conviction of teen-age girl's attacker

Howard County

January 29, 2003|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

It was dark, so Officer Patrick Eckley switched on his flashlight as he plowed through thick, thorny brush.

With his canine partner, Ben, in the lead, Eckley had no idea what lay ahead, only that a girl's screams had sent the Howard County Police Department to the 5600 block of Columbia Road.

As they rounded a shrub, he saw what Ben had been pursuing so intently: a man sexually assaulting a teen-age girl, his hands around her throat.

Minutes later, it was over. The girl was in the care of police and emergency workers, the man in handcuffs and on his way to jail.

Within weeks of the June 25 attack, the accolades would start arriving for Eckley and Ben, including a national award from the U.S. Police Canine Association for their actions that night, actions that their superiors say might have saved the teen-ager's life.

Last week, Malcolm Scott, 27, pleaded guilty to attempted murder and rape charges. He could get 65 years in prison at his sentencing April 4.

Eckley, a nearly 10-year Howard police veteran, is modest about his role, preferring to share the praise with other officers on the scene and insisting that any of the other four handlers and their dogs would have performed as well.

"I look at this as I had a very small part in the whole effort," Eckley said Friday, as Ben gnawed on a toy by his feet. "It was a team effort more than individual."

Added credibility

But local officials said last week that Eckley and Ben also helped set the criminal case on more solid footing.

At trial, a defense attorney would have had to attack not only the credibility of the victim, but of the officer, said Assistant State's Attorney Danielle Duclaux, one of two prosecutors handling the case.

Scott's defense attorney, Deputy Public Defender Louis P. Willemin said Eckley's testimony made the case against Scott stronger.

Eckley's arrival during the assault was unusual, officials said. While officers have been known to stop burglaries and car break-ins the past, it is less common for violent crimes.

"I don't think I have ever seen a case like this," said Duclaux.

A comfort to victim

The young woman, who was 17 at the time, declined to comment for this article. But Catherine Busch, clinical director of Columbia's Sexual Trauma Treatment, Advocacy and Recovery Center, said Scott's immediate arrest likely also will help the victim as she heals.

Often, a victim wonders if her story will be believed, and in assaults involving strangers, whether the perpetrator will ever be found, she said.

"What's difficult for victims is that sense of feeling totally helpless and powerless. The fact that someone comes and takes the person away takes away some of that fear," Busch said. "This is like a hero coming to your rescue."

Eckley, 34, is married and lives with his wife and child in Elkridge.

He has been working with Ben, a 6-year-old German shepherd trained to do patrol and drug work, since he became a canine officer four years ago.

Doing their job

Eckley insists he was only doing his job at the time of Scott's arrest.

When he arrived at the scene after 4:30 a.m., other officers were talking to residents who called 911 about the screams and had found a pair of sandals and set of keys on an apartment parking lot.

Eckley and Ben went to work, and Ben quickly picked up a trail in the grass. Following it onto a small path in the brush, Ben started pulling harder on his leash, his nose to the ground. It was then that they found Scott and the teen-ager.

The victim had fought her attacker at every turn, according to a statement she gave to police. Scott grabbed her from behind on the parking lot, stabbed her in the chest and dragged her into the woods, she said.

The girl described clawing at Scott's eyes, twisting his genitalia and stalling him as he beat and choked her, and tried to pull her deeper into the woods when they heard voices.

When Eckley arrived, he ordered Scott to show his hands. Scott got up and started to run, but the girl tackled him, the officer said. Eckley told her to get out of the way, but Scott ran again, he said. When Scott would not stop, the officer released Ben, who bit Scott in the leg and held on while Eckley wrestled him into handcuffs.

The incident took roughly 10 minutes, Eckley said.

Good teamwork

Capt. Nancy Yeager, the Northern District commander and canine unit coordinator, said Eckley is known as an energetic and committed officer. Arrests like Scott's show the value of canine partnerships, she said.

"This case is about being in the right place at the right time and making all the right operational decisions, which Pat did," she said.

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