Teens' weekend in jail after traffic stop decried

Police say arrest followed their failure to obey orders

Metro

News from around the Baltimore region

April 15, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Two 18-year-old women pulled over by police for speeding spent this past weekend in a city jail because they allegedly disobeyed a Baltimore officer's orders to stay in their car.

Prosecutors declined to pursue charges of resisting arrest and failure to obey an officer that police filed against Arielle Moody and Brittany Johnson.

Lawyers representing the Baltimore County teens called the arrests absurd. They also said their law offices receive dozens of phone calls each week from people who claim they have been wrongly arrested, mistreated and held at the Central Booking and Intake Center for hours or even days before their cases ultimately dissolve.

"It felt like a dream," Johnson said yesterday at a news conference with her lawyers. "I just knew I was going to wake up from a horrible dream, and I didn't."

Agent Donny Moses, a Police Department spokesman, said the arrests were legal and that there will be no internal review of the incident. "She didn't do anything wrong," he said. "There's nothing to review."

Department spokesman Matt Jablow disputed the lawyers' assertions that officers are making bad arrests, calling the accusations "outrageous, irresponsible and inflammatory." He said arrests are down 30 percent compared with last year, and both excessive-force complaints and discourtesy complaints have decreased steadily over the years. But the teens' lawyers, Warren A. Brown and James Rhodes, pointed to statistics compiled by the state's attorney's office showing that about 1,500 people each month are arrested but then released from jail when prosecutors decline to pursue charges.

"Innocent people are being transported to jail like thugs," Brown said. "It's insane. I've grown weary of it."

The teens' ordeal began about 5 p.m. Saturday when Officer Jeannette M. Smith, who had been conducting speed enforcement, signaled for them to pull over in the 1200 block of Caton Ave., near Interstate 95.

They had been going 26 miles over the speed limit and were not wearing their seat belts, police said.

Neither woman had ever before been arrested or stopped for a traffic violation, their mothers said yesterday. Moody was a Girl Scout for 12 years.

As Smith wrote the tickets during the traffic stop, Moody - the driver - said she stepped out of her car to get some snacks out of the trunk. The teens, friends from church and college-bound high school seniors, had been shopping at a flea market and hadn't eaten all day, Moody said.

Smith ordered Moody to get back into her car, which she said she did. As Smith approached the car, Johnson said she got out, and, seeing this, the officer rushed forward, handcuffed her and made her sit on the curb.

According to charging documents, Smith arrested Johnson because she disobeyed her orders to stay in the car.

Moody said she then left the car and flipped open her cell phone to call her mother. She said Smith tackled her, sat on her to the point where she could not breathe and then handcuffed her.

Smith wrote in the charging documents that Moody resisted arrest by refusing to hang up the cell phone and "a scuffle ensued as I attempted to hold onto Ms Moody." As that was going on, Smith wrote, Johnson stood up, so the officer grabbed the chain between the cuffs and pulled her to the ground."

The officer, the teens said, also called them a racial slur, which Johnson spelled but did not repeat during the news conference. "I was appalled at how she would treat two black young ladies," Johnson said.

Moody was taken to St. Agnes Hospital for injuries from the arrest, Brown said, and Johnson was taken to Central Booking. Johnson said she was held for about 24 hours at Central Booking; Moody was released after 36 hours.

Smith made the news earlier this week when WBAL reported on her arrest of a woman who said she had been rushing to a bicycle accident involving her neighbor's child.

Moses said that, too, was a justified arrest.

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