Assault charges are dropped in Westminster confetti case

Ex-official was accused of attacking 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 state's 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 in 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."

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

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