It's a crime that police arrested dirt-bike kid

March 21, 2007|By GREGORY KANE

What kind of parents buy their 7-year-old son a dirt bike in a city where dirt bikes are illegal?

If you're inclined to say "irresponsible ones" and feel tempted to put that label on Gerard Mungo Sr. and Lakisa Dinkins, read on before you do.

Mungo and Dinkins are the parents of 7-year-old Gerard Mungo Jr. Eight days ago, a city police officer arrested Gerard Jr. after confiscating his dirt bike. The officer took the boy to the Eastern District station, where Mungo Sr. and Dinkins say he spent two hours handcuffed to a bench.

If there were a Richter scale that measured outrage, this incident would have blown the needle off the thing. Mayor Sheila Dixon and Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm were quick to condemn the arrest, while stressing that dirt bikes are a no-no in this town.

"It is illegal to have a dirt bike in Baltimore City," Dixon said at a news conference Friday. Hamm added that "dirt bikes are dangerous."

Some elaboration might be in order. Dirt bikes aren't dangerous in and of themselves. They're inanimate objects. What makes them dangerous - and handguns and knives and, oh, I don't know, BB guns maybe? - is the way some people choose to use them.

It's the reckless way that Baltimore's "dirt bike hooligans" - if I may paraphrase a line from a Sun editorial of 2002 - ride them that led to the ban. That law does not preclude the possibility that some people can ride dirt bikes responsibly.

Mungo Sr. feels he's one of those people. He feels the same about Mungo Jr.

Young Gerard, Mungo Sr. said, has never ridden a dirt bike without adult supervision.

That includes the one police confiscated last week, which Mungo Sr. bought Gerard Feb. 21 when he turned 7. And it includes the smaller model that still sits in the family's residence in the 2100 block of E. Federal St. The black mini-cycle also has something hanging from the handlebars: a black helmet with motorcycle gloves inside.

The helmet and gloves might settle for many people the issue of how responsible Gerard's parents are. But for Mungo Sr. and Dinkins, this isn't about their conduct as parents. Nor is it about any money they might win in a lawsuit. It's about what they perceive as gross police misconduct.

"I'm not worried about money," Mungo Sr. said. "I'm worried about my son's well-being. I don't want him to be one of those people running around saying, `I hate the police.' And I don't want him being a racist running around saying, `I hate white people.'"

Dinkins said the officer who arrested Gerard is white, as is the officer's supervisor, who came to the scene after she complained.

"I'm not in it for the money," Dinkins said. "I don't see dollar signs."

What she might see if she looked in the mirror is the fury still in her eyes one week after, she says, the arresting officer waved a pair of handcuffs in her face and told her just before he arrested Gerard, "He's coming with me."

Matt Jablow, a spokesman for the Police Department, said he can't comment on the officer's or the supervisor's version of events because the incident is under investigation.

At last week's news conference, Hamm said that an officer who saw Gerard on the bike was prepared to confiscate the vehicle, which both Dixon and Hamm said would have been the most appropriate action. But Dinkins, Hamm said, called for a supervisor. It was after the supervisor arrived that Gerard was arrested. Hamm said police are investigating what happened between the supervisor and Dinkins that led to the arrest.

Dinkins was more than happy to give her version of events. She said that after the first officer "snatched" Gerard off the dirt bike and confiscated it, she asked for his name and badge number. When the officer refused, Dinkins said, she demanded to see his supervisor.

In her house later, Dinkins said the supervisor "loud-talked" Gerard, raising his voice and bellowing, "Son, do you realize what you did was wrong?"

Dinkins objected to the tone and the question. And lecturing Gerard was not why she called the supervisor. It was after she demanded that the supervisor leave that Gerard was arrested, Dinkins said.

"I think they're mad because I asked for a supervisor," Dinkins said. "Gerard told me that the police officer who arrested him told him that `if it weren't for your mother calling my boss, you wouldn't have went to jail.'"

Because police can't comment before their investigation is completed, I'll have to play devil's advocate for them. Dirt bikes were banned after several accidents in which riders were killed. Police officers could argue that by taking the bike and arresting Gerard, they might well have saved his life.

But there's a Sun article from August, 2002 that says police were stopping commuters who were riding motorized scooters - banned along with dirt bikes in 2000 - and impounding the vehicles. That's stopping and impounding, not arresting the riders.

The arrest was reserved for the 7-year-old black kid from a poor East Baltimore neighborhood. As Dixon and Hamm have said, there's really no way to justify that.

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