3 officers focus of internal inquiry

Police take action after fireworks prompt complaint

April 05, 2006|By MELISSA HARRIS | MELISSA HARRIS,SUN REPORTER

Howard County police have launched an internal investigation into the conduct of three officers after one of them shot fireworks from the balcony of his apartment, prompting at least one neighbor to report gunfire, a police report says.

The incident unfolded about 2:20 a.m. March 11 when the neighbor called 911 to report seven explosions at the apartment building, the location of which was blacked out in the police report.

Police with rifles were en route to the apartment and others had begun establishing "a perimeter" around the building when Officer Kevin Layman reported -- first by phone and then by police radio -- that the fireworks had come from the golf course behind his apartment. Layman later reversed that statement.

Police declined to issue a citation against the officers for the "possession or discharge of fireworks without a permit," a misdemeanor charge carrying a fine of up to $250 for each offense.

Police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said that of the 393 calls reporting fireworks in Howard County last year, citations were issued in eight cases. In nine other cases, police arrested suspects on fireworks and more severe charges.

Layman and his two colleagues in the apartment that night -- Officer Christopher Williams and Officer James Zamillo -- could face stiff penalties, including a loss of pay, suspension or fine, pending the outcome of the internal investigation.

The details of the incident recently became available under a Freedom of Information Act request from The Sun filed March 16. The department has 30 days to respond to such requests under law and typically does not comply until a criminal investigation has been completed.

A supervisor, Sgt. Joe Gibbons, handled the report that morning. After listening to the neighbor's additional complaints of noise, disorderly conduct and drunkenness against the officers, Gibbons entered the apartment to speak with them.

Gibbons reported that Layman's eyes were "bloodshot, watery and glassy" and that Gibbons detected "a moderate odor of alcohol." Williams also was "visibly intoxicated." Zamillo was lying on the couch, spitting tobacco into a cardboard coffee cup.

Gibbons told him "to sit up, put your spit cup down and pay attention to what is being said here," according to the report.

After Gibbons advised the three of the internal investigation and their rights under the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, Layman said, "Sir, I was the one who shot the fireworks off. They [Zamillo and Williams] had nothing to do with it," according to the narrative report.

Layman later "blurted out: `I bought the fireworks in Florida, brought them back, and I was the only one who shot them off the balcony. I know that was stupid,' " the report says.

James F. Fitzgerald, president of the Police Department's union, that he was "shocked" by details that Gibbons chose to include in the four-page narrative. He said that most of the description had "nothing to do" with a fireworks complaint and "should have never been included" in a public document, calling details of officers' alcohol and tobacco use "internal personnel" issues.

The report "interweaved a personnel issue -- a rules and regulation violation -- with a minor criminal infraction," Fitzgerald said. "It should have been a one-page report identifying Mr. Layman as shooting off fireworks and issuing a criminal summons. ... Officers have a right to drink when they're not working."

He said the officers have not requested the assistance of a union lawyer.

Llewellyn said that she could not comment on the progress of the internal investigation. Layman, Zamillo and Williams could not be reached for comment yesterday. The officers' names were not listed in phone directories or electronic databases.

Llewellyn also said that she could not release the officers' ages because it is part of their personnel files.

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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