Inquiry targets city police major

Off-duty officer stopped van in Arundel, left scene

March 10, 2006|By ANDREA F. SIEGEL AND PETER HERMANN | ANDREA F. SIEGEL AND PETER HERMANN,SUN REPORTERS

The commander of the Baltimore Police Department's homicide unit is being investigated by Internal Affairs for making a traffic stop outside the city line and then driving away after his unmarked cruiser struck the back of the minivan he had pulled over, an agency spokesman said yesterday.

Maj. Richard C. Fahlteich, a 32-year veteran, was found guilty last week in Anne Arundel County District Court of leaving the scene of an accident without providing his car registration or identification to the other driver. District Judge J. Michael Wachs then offered Fahlteich probation before judgment, which he accepted.

No disciplinary action has been taken, but the case remains under a review that should be completed in a few days, said city police spokesman Matt Jablow.

At a 90-minute trial before Wachs, the woman whose minivan was hit and Fahlteich offered starkly different versions of the way the accident occurred on a Saturday afternoon in July on the southbound ramp to Route 10 in Glen Burnie.

Nancy Elizabeth McCarthy of Columbia said she was trying to get her 13-year-old daughter to a softball game and was confused about how to get out of a shopping center parking lot. Fahlteich, who was off-duty and wearing shorts and a T-shirt, said he saw McCarthy driving in the wrong lane after she left the shopping center and that as she proceeded, she cut off another car, drove through a stop sign and made a U-turn that forced another car to swerve into the median.

Fahlteich said he activated the emergency lights and siren of his city-owned Ford Crown Victoria, pulled over the Ford Windstar, got out and identified himself by flashing his badge and warned her about her poor driving skills. He gave the following account of the incident:

"I approached the driver and did what I have done for the better part of 32 years - I said, `I am Major Fahlteich of the Baltimore Police Department. Are you OK, ma'am?'" the police commander said. "She said, `Yes I am, I'm in a hurry.' And I said, `OK, the reason why I stopped you is that I just watched you commit three violations and you are driving dangerously and you have a teenager in the vehicle.'"

In a brief interview, Fahlteich, 61, said last night that he feared for the safety of the occupants of the minivan and other cars on the road and that he feels he was justified in stopping the car. "In my heart of hearts, that's how I feel about it," he said.

McCarthy testified that Fahl- teich's cruiser rolled into the back of her van as the major talked. She said he abruptly ran back to his car, apparently to try to stop it from rolling. After the slight impact - which McCarthy described as having "the intensity of a brief bump" - she said, Fahlteich returned.

"He said to me, `What we have here is a situation,'" she said in court. "He said, `My vehicle has bumped your vehicle. So now we're even. So have a nice day.' He turned around, and he left. ... I was pretty shaken up. I wasn't sure if this was somebody who was a police officer." Later, McCarthy described Fahlteich as "very irate, very angry."

Fahlteich denied telling McCarthy that they were "even." He also told the judge that his car lurched forward and tapped the van's back bumper when he shifted into park and took his foot off the brake. He said he glanced at the cars but did not inspect closely for damage. The police commander said he told McCarthy to "please drive safely" before leaving.

McCarthy said she noticed a scratch on her bumper when she arrived at the softball field and called Anne Arundel County police after she got home that evening and consulted her husband. Her 13-year-old daughter had jotted down Fahlteich's license plate number. An Anne Arundel officer investigated and filed the charge against the major.

Wachs said it did not matter how the accident occurred. He said Fahlteich, as a sworn police officer in Baltimore, had no legal reason to stop a car in Anne Arundel County and that after the minor collision, he was legally obligated to inspect the cars for damage and provide McCarthy with his name and a way he could be reached.

"I believe that he flashed his badge and said he's so and so from the Baltimore Police Department," Wachs said. "But that doesn't meet with the requirements. ... For whatever reason, at that point, Major Fahlteich left the scene. ... Technically, I think he's guilty."

The judge questioned why Fahl- teich would go out of his way to pull over a car for what the major described as three serious traffic infractions that endangered the public but not follow through by notifying Anne Arundel County police to issue citations.

"That just doesn't jibe," Wachs said.

"My thought, your honor, was that I had made the point," the major answered. "I've let this woman know that she has to drive carefully. And that was my main objective. It would have served nothing to have some county officer come and serve a bunch of citations and me have to come to court and everything else."

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