Driver argued with officer, report says

Lost man ticketed, and his refusal to leave prompts arrest

prosecutors decline to pursue case


A Baltimore police officer who arrested a young Virginia couple who claim they were asking for directions after getting lost in a South Baltimore neighborhood stated in a report that the driver argued with her and tried to tear a ticket out of a citation book.

Officer Natalie N. Preston wrote in police documents that, after she ticketed the driver for running a stop sign on Round Road in Cherry Hill, the man held onto her pen before she grabbed it back and that he then refused to leave, prompting her to arrest him and his girlfriend on suspicion of trespassing on public housing property and failing to obey a lawful order.

The account offers the first explanation of the arrests from police after complaints by the couple in which they said they were arrested after asking an officer how to leave South Baltimore's Cherry Hill neighborhood.

Authorities declined to elaborate on the police report yesterday, saying the matter is being investigated by the department's Internal Affairs Division.

Prosecutors at Central Booking and Intake Center, where Joshua Kelley, 22, and Llara Brook, 20, were taken after their arrest, reviewed the officer's statement and decided not to pursue the case.

"This did not rise to a case that we believe should be criminally prosecuted," said spokeswoman Margaret T. Burns. She said the couple, who were arrested Saturday evening, were held at Central Booking for more than eight hours until prosecutors ordered them released without charges.

Police said the stop occurred about 8:25 p.m. Saturday when an officer stopped them near Round and Bridgeview roads.

In an interview last night, Kelley, who said his only previous trip to Baltimore was three years ago, said he was not trying to argue with the officer and that the officer misinterpreted his movements.

"I said, `Before I sign this, can you please give us directions back to the highway?'" Kelley said. "I'm horrible with directions."

Kelley said he did question the officer about whether she was in a position to see the car he was driving as it passed a stop sign, but that he was "never belligerent."

The incident, first reported by The Examiner, began when the couple traveled to Baltimore from their home in Chantilly, Va., to attend an Orioles baseball game Saturday afternoon. Kelley said they got lost coming into Baltimore.

After the game, the couple said they got lost again after they left a Lee Street parking lot and tried to return to Interstate 95 and instead ended up in Cherry Hill, where they were stopped by police. The officers involved in the incident are part of the Police Department's housing section, which patrols the city's public housing complexes.

Kelley said he remembers seeing a sign for Interstate 95 North but that he did not get on the highway and continued to look for signs for I-95 South.

Kelley denied that he and his girlfriend were looking to buy drugs in Cherry Hill, a neighborhood that has often struggled with the illegal drug trade.

"I was honestly lost and not there to buy drugs," Kelley said. "I didn't even know Cherry Hill before I got arrested."

Kelley, who lives with Brook at his parents' house in Chantilly, has a prior misdemeanor conviction for embezzlement stemming from a 2003 incident, according to Virginia criminal court records. He said he presented a receipt for an item he had not purchased to a cashier at a Home Depot in exchange for less than $200 in cash.

Paul M. Blair Jr., the city Fraternal Order of Police union president, said he could not understand how the couple got lost leaving Camden Yards and ended up in the heart of Cherry Hill.

"The only version we're hearing is the spin being put out by the couple in the press," Blair said. "Of course, if it's an official investigation, the officers can't tell their version until the investigation is over. There's always two versions of any story."

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