Judge throws out part of case against councilman's daughter

But she, Oliver's granddaughter face other charges from traffic stop

April 22, 2010|By Bryan P. Sears, Patuxent Publishing

A District Court judge threw out this week the September 2009 disorderly conduct charge against Kelli Oliver, daughter of Baltimore County Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver, but she and the councilman's granddaughter will stand trial on other charges stemming from a traffic stop in which the two are accused of arguing with a county police officer.

In dismissing the disorderly conduct charge, Judge Dorothy Wilson said that "the elements of disorderly conduct did not exist" at the time Kelli Oliver was arrested.

Wilson ruled Wednesday that the arrest for disorderly conduct was illegal and granted defense attorney Dwight Pettit's motion to suppress evidence and testimony stemming from that arrest — including testimony from the arresting officer, Jeffery Graves, that Kelli Oliver cursed at him and threatened to have him fired because her father is on the County Council.

Pettit, in his motion to suppress the testimony, argued that Oliver's comments and cursing were protected speech.

"Any person can curse an officer," Pettit said to the judge. Kelli Oliver "has the right to do that under the law."

The judge's decision appeared to end a nearly three-hour trial in District Court in Catonsville for Oliver and Talaya Kirkland, Kenneth Oliver's granddaughter. But as the pair stood to leave after hearing Wilson's ruling, Lisa Phelps, a Baltimore City assistant state's attorney, asked the judge whether she could proceed with the second-degree assault charge against Kelli Oliver, and obstruction, hindering and disorderly conduct charges against Kirkland.

Phelps is prosecuting the case because county prosecutors asked the city to step in. With the defendants related to the councilman, a county prosecution could be perceived as a conflict of interest.

Wilson ruled that the state could pursue other charges — provided that the evidence did not violate her suppression ruling. The judge then set June 2 as the date for the continuation of the trial.

"This is a first for me in 36 years of practicing law," Pettit said about the judge's approval to pursue additional charges. He suggested that a case against his clients will be difficult because "all the evidence from anything related to the arrest can't come in because it's suppressed."

During Wednesday's hearing, Kelli Oliver, 40, and Kirkland, 22, listened as Graves testified how they were arrested after they became verbally abusive with police officers, according to charging documents.

Graves testified that Oliver had been driving a blue Mitsubishi on Greens Lane, less than half a mile from the councilman's house, just before 11 p.m. Sept. 14. Graves said he pulled the car over for a burned-out left brake light.

During the stop, the two women became verbally abusive and got out of the car and yelled at the officers, the officer testified. Graves said he ordered Kirkland to return to the car after she got out and yelled at him while he was trying to get identification from Oliver.

Graves said he had Oliver get out of the car and walk to the front of his police cruiser in an effort to defuse the situation. He said he explained to her that he would likely write her only a repair citation for the burned-out light and let her go, but she "exploded in anger."

Graves told the two to get back into the car and then called for backup, he testified. Graves said Oliver then cursed at him and called him "Barney Fife." The officer's testimony drew a laugh from Kirkland. At that moment, the judge turned her attention to the defense table as Robert Smith, Kirkland's lawyer, attempted to quiet his client.

Graves also testified that the commotion from the stop caused traffic to slow along Old Court Road, and it was then that he decided to arrest Oliver for disorderly conduct. During the arrest, one of the officers said that they had been scratched and bitten, and that Oliver and Kirkland had repeatedly told them they were related to the councilman, and that he would have them all fired, according to court records.

Pettit argued that Oliver's comments and cursing were not a crime.

"This is not an incitement to violence," Pettit said. "That is calling him a name."

Wilson, after nearly an hour's recess, agreed. She dismissed the disorderly arrest against Oliver and ruled to suppress the testimony.

Phelps' request to proceed with the rest of the case stemmed from her belief that the law allows for a person to be charged and convicted of assaulting a police officer, even if the precipitating arrest was not legal. After the hearing, when told of Pettit's belief that her case was neutered by Wilson's suppression ruling, Phelps responded, "I disagree."

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