Officers' suspension questioned

Arundel police union criticizes action taken in stolen-vehicle case

June 06, 2008|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun Reporter

Anne Arundel County's police union is questioning the suspension of three officers' police powers as the department reviews a high-speed chase of a stolen minivan allegedly driven by a 15-year-old boy who crashed into an unmarked police car in an Annapolis neighborhood.

Sgt. John Gilmer, a county police spokesman, said it is routine for the department to conduct a review after a chase. But the county union president said that the "emergency suspension" of two officers and a supervisor, ordered two days after a county councilman inquired about the circumstances leading up to the chase, was unusual and unnecessary.

"It's absolutely not typical for officers to have their police powers suspended during a routine review of a situation similar to this," said O'Brien Atkinson, president of the county's Fraternal Order of Police lodge. "I think it was the political pressure that came as soon as they saw a headline."

Gilmer said he could not discuss the review, citing personnel issues, but he acknowledged that suspensions during investigations are not "routine."

About 2:25 p.m May 21, officers found a stolen Dodge Caravan parked in a park-and-ride lot on Riva Road near Harry S. Truman Parkway. Police said the officers noticed that the vehicle's ignition had been tampered with and that a shotgun was inside.

Police conducted surveillance on the van and about 3:45 p.m. saw three people get into it. When officers approached, the vehicle was driven at them and sped out of the parking lot.

The police pursuit, which took place during the annual performance over Annapolis of the Navy Blue Angels flight team, ended on Newtowne Drive after the van hit an unmarked police car head-on. Officers said they used a Taser gun on the teenage driver as he attempted to flee and arrested him and two adult passengers.

Two police officers and the van's driver were taken to local hospitals for minor injuries and released that day.

In a May 27 e-mail to Police Chief James P. Teare Sr. provided to The Sun, County Councilman Joshua Cohen, an Annapolis Democrat, inquired about the incident on behalf of citizens who raised questions. They wondered why police hadn't disabled the vehicle initially, Cohen said. He added in an interview that he did not call for a formal investigation of the incident or suspension of the officers.

The officers, whom the department would not identify, were suspended May 30, a day after an article appeared in The Capital newspaper of Annapolis, which quoted Cohen, two other councilmen and a police expert from Florida questioning whether the officers should have disabled the vehicle first or used spikes to flatten the van's tires.

Atkinson said those questions were easy to ask in hindsight and that the union did not have a position on whether the officers acted appropriately.

"What about contaminating the crime scene, officer safety concerns, concerns about breaking into a car that may later turn out to not be stolen, or that it turns out the gun wasn't what you thought it was? Then where are you?" Atkinson said. "You could very well face departmental or criminal charges if you take the wrong action that ends up violating somebody's privacy.

"There are so many different facets ... that we tend not to second-guess one another."

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