Don't `rush to judgment,' Annapolis police chief says

June 12, 2007|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,sun reporter

Annapolis police Chief Joseph Johnson acknowledged yesterday that members of his force botched a drug raid, but he cautioned against what he called a "collective rush to judgment" of the officers' actions.

"The APD has apologized for this mistake several times," Johnson wrote in an e-mailed statement. "What I have not done, and cannot do until the investigation into this incident is complete is respond to allegations that have been made about my officers."

In what Johnson termed a "dynamic entry," about a dozen members of the department's special team forced open a door and threw in a percussion grenade about 8:20 p.m. Wednesday at a Spa Cove apartment where an immigrant couple were making dinner.

Police soon realized that they were at the wrong building - No. 905 instead of 901 - and apologized to the residents and asked if they needed medical assistance, the police said.

Officers on the scene then called in a Spanish-speaking community relations specialist to speak with the residents, who are from El Salvador, police said.

Police also said a woman tried to barricade the door with her body.

The tenants, however, gave a different account of the mistaken raid.

Silvia Bernal, 30, who said she has heart problems, claims she was handcuffed and placed on the floor before being sent to the hospital.

And her husband, Elmer Rene Perez, has alleged that he was handcuffed and kicked in the groin by the officers.

The couple have retained legal counsel, as have other tenants, including a couple who came upon the scene after grocery shopping.

Johnson said his officers "have the right to ... `innocent until proven otherwise' protection" and said the investigation is continuing.

"If the above incidents did occur, they constitute excessive force, and I will personally and publicly apologize," Johnson said in his statement.

"If, as has also been reported, our officers were callous and unfeeling in verbal responses to these citizens, I will also apologize for those comments."

Johnson said a Hispanic minister visited with the family Saturday at the behest of the department.

Mary Schumaker, a Latino community advocate who is working closely with the couple, on the incident declined to comment, pending the results of the inquiry.

A report on the incident expected in the next two weeks.nia.henderson@baltsun.com

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