Policeman charged in theft ring

Baltimore County officer accused of stealing car is suspended without pay

March 01, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County police officer has been arrested and charged in connection with a car-theft ring being investigated by regional authorities, police said yesterday.

Armando Anthony Zapanta Jr., 28, of the 1100 block of Plover Drive in Halethorpe was suspended from duty without pay yesterday after he surrendered at the Wilkens precinct Thursday night on felony theft charges, police said. He was released after posting $50,000 bail.

The officer, who has served four years on the force and is assigned to the Towson precinct, was cleared of charges of using excessive force in 2001. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

According to a charging document filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court, Zapanta is accused of stealing a 1998 Volkswagen GTI on Jan. 16 and trying to deface the serial number. Police said Zapanta's arrest is part of a continuing investigation by the Regional Auto Theft Task Force that began last year.

Few details were available yesterday about the theft ring. "This case is still active," said Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman. "We may have more arrests. That's why there isn't more information."

Union lawyers were not representing Zapanta as of yesterday, said Cole B. Weston, president of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, who added that union lawyers typically don't represent officers accused of felonies.

After arresting a man for traffic violations in 2001, Zapanta was accused by the man of intentionally slamming on the brakes of his patrol car, sending the unrestrained and handcuffed suspect into the cruiser's cage.

Abruptly stopping a police cruiser, called a "screen test" by some officers, is an illegal practice. But internal affairs investigators could not sustain the charges that Zapanta, who was accompanied at the time by a member of the department's Explorer program, meant to harm his prisoner, Toohey said.

However, police investigators did find that Zapanta violated procedures because he did not restrain the suspect with a seat belt. Toohey declined to comment on what, if any, discipline Zapanta received, saying it was a personnel matter.

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