Charges dropped in confetti incident

Ex-official was accused of assaulting police officer

February 13, 2003|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

All charges were dropped yesterday against a former Westminster city councilwoman who had been accused of assaulting a police officer - with confetti - at a homecoming parade last fall.

The prosecutor assigned to the case said charges of second-degree assault and malicious destruction of property against Rebecca A. Orenstein "would not be supported by the evidence that we would have been able to produce."

"The prosecutors in my office ... spoke with the officer involved, and it was the decision of both parties that this was the best way to handle it," said Colleen E. Markey, an assistant district attorney in Howard County.

The matter was referred to the Howard County prosecutor's office after Carroll State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes said he would refuse to handle the case because he had advised Westminster police against pressing charges and because he had worked with Orenstein on a committee to improve the Pennsylvania Avenue area of Westminster.

"I'm sure that all law enforcement is glad that this unfortunate incident is behind us," Barnes said.

Orenstein, who served on the Westminster Common Council from 1991 to 1995, said that although the idea of committing an assault with confetti might seem humorous, she took the charges seriously.

"Many people thought it was hilarious, comedic - but I never thought so," said Orenstein, who, according to the court file, had subpoenaed as witnesses Westminster's mayor and public works director. "I'm just thrilled that it's over."

Orenstein, 60, could have received up to 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine if convicted of the second-degree assault charge, according to court records.

The incident occurred Oct. 19 during the McDaniel College homecoming parade. Orenstein, a 1974 graduate of the school then known as Western Maryland College, was among the hundreds of spectators lining Main Street.

Orenstein has said that she was laughing as she shook confetti - thrown during the parade - from her clothes and hair and threw it into a car because, not wearing her glasses, she mistook the officer inside the police cruiser for a friend.

But Officer Steve Atwood of the Westminster police wrote in charging documents that Orenstein threw "metallic foil style confetti towards and into my face, assaulting me and causing most of it to cover myself and some throughout the inside of the patrol car."

He also wrote: "When Ms. Orenstein approached the car and threw the confetti, she had a look of anger about her face and did not say a word to this officer at any time."

She was served with court papers containing criminal charges two weeks later.

Orenstein, the city's first female council member, lost a bid for re-election in 1995 but re-emerged at public meetings as a voice on problems in the city's Pennsylvania Avenue area, where she has lived since 1971. She has been highly critical of Police Chief Roger G. Joneckis' administration, which she says should be doing more about drug dealing, prostitution and other criminal activity on her street.

Yesterday, she contended that the charges were related to her outspokenness.

"Part of my happiness is knowing that our judicial system has undone what I consider an injustice against me because of my speaking out," she said.

Jonekis, through a department spokesman, declined to comment.

"As far as we're concerned, it's over with, and we would have no further comment," said Maj. Dean A. Brewer.

Orenstein, relieved to have the matter behind her, was busy yesterday preparing to perform and to pass out fliers for a weekend performance of The Vagina Monologues in Westminster.

"And I'm back on my street with my activism about crime issues, without having to be distracted by this case," she said.

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