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Complaint filed against police officer

April 09, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

A Hagerstown city employee has filed a complaint accusing a city police officer of improperly pointing his gun at him during a traffic stop last month.

Ray Foltz Sr., Hagerstown's assistant finance director, filed the complaint earlier this week with the police department against Officer Casey Yonkers.

Foltz alleges that Yonkers pulled him over at about 6:45 a.m. on March 25, aimed his revolver at him and ordered him out of his car.

"I hadn't done anything that would be threatening to anyone," Foltz said in an interview.

Hagerstown Police Department officials said complaints against officers are investigated internally. They said they do not comment on specific cases.

Reached on Thursday, Yonkers said he was not allowed to comment because the matter is under investigation.

Police officials said officers must have probable cause to take out their guns.

"The important thing is, we don't want to tie the officer's hands to the point where he hesitates and waits too long to draw his weapon," Police Chief Dale J. Jones said.

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Jones said the department judges whether officers are justified in drawing a gun when citizens file complaints. Supervisors also can initiate reviews.

When an officer fires a gun at another person, the department automatically launches a comprehensive review. But officers are not required to file reports if they draw their weapons but do not fire, Jones said.

Foltz, 48, said he was terrified by the incident. He said he was driving north on Virginia Avenue on his way to his mother's house, where he often has coffee before work.

As he approached the intersection with Burhans and Wilson boulevards, Foltz said he noticed the flashing lights from a police cruiser behind him. He said he turned left onto Burhans, thinking the officer was after someone else.

When the cruiser did not pass him, Foltz said he determined the officer was after him. So he drove from the left lane to the right lane.

But he said he did not immediately pull over because the road has no shoulder and he did not want to create a traffic hazard. Instead, Foltz said he pointed to the bottom of the hill, intending to signal the officer that he was heading for the entrance of the Lowe's Distribution Center.

The officer switched on his siren at this point, according to Foltz's complaint.

When he entered the Lowe's property, Foltz said he stopped his car and Yonkers jumped out of his cruiser pointing his revolver at him. Foltz said he got out of his car with his hands raised and then obeyed the officer's command to place his hands on his car.

Yonkers frisked Foltz, handcuffed him and then placed him in the back of his cruiser, according to the complaint.

"I don't relish having a gun pulled on me," Foltz said. "This isn't a case of police brutality. It's a case of bad judgment."

After checking Foltz's license, Yonkers issued citations for speeding and failing to pull over to the right for an emergency vehicle.

Foltz said he was surprised to learn that officers are not required to file a report when they unholster their guns. He said he also was upset that he was not told why he was handcuffed.

"All through this, the officer never gave me any explanation why he had to raise it to those stakes," he said. "A police officer is intimidating by his very nature. To have a gun pulled on you is even more so."

Lt. Robert Frick, who commands the department's Professional Standards Division, said citizens who want to file complaints must do so within 90 days of an incident and sign a notarized form.

The Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights mandates a procedure in serious cases, like excessive force complaints. Officers have the right to have their cases heard by a panel of police officers.

Frick said investigations, which usually last about 30 days, can end with the officer being exonerated; with a finding of insufficient evidence to support the claim; with the complaint being sustained; or with a ruling of a policy failure.

A policy failure means the officer did not act improperly because the policy is unclear or insufficient, Frick said.

Frick said he could not comment on specific cases, but that officers can take out their guns during traffic stops under certain conditions.

Jones said the department receives 70 to 80 complaints a year, ranging from accusations of rudeness to more serious offenses.

The vast majority of complaints are more minor, Jones said. Less than 5 percent are on the order of brutality or excessive force.

He estimated about 60 percent of the complaints are not sustained.

The chief determines the penalty in cases where the complaints are sustained. Penalties range from counseling the officer about the action to a formal letter of reprimand to dismissal.

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