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Hagerstown police hit with another complaint

April 20, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

A second complaint that Hagerstown City Police officers improperly pulled their guns on city residents has been filed by a Jonathan Street woman who said the incident shook her.

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"I was scared. When you're looking down the barrel of a gun it's no picnic," said Deborah Thomas, 41, of 310 N. Jonathan St.

Thomas filed the complaint Monday.

Hagerstown City Police Chief Dale Jones said Monday that complaints against officers are investigated internally and that he would not comment on specific cases.

A similar complaint was filed two weeks ago by Ray Foltz Sr., assistant finance director for the city, who alleged that Officer Casey Yonkers improperly pointed his gun at him during a traffic stop on Virginia Avenue on March 25.

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Thomas, who provided a copy of her complaint to The Morning Herald, alleges that on Sunday, she and her boyfriend were riding in a car when they realized they were being followed by a police officer in a cruiser.

When they stopped at their Jonathan Street home, the officers behind them turned on the cruiser's light and stopped as well, she said.

One got out of the cruiser, drew his gun, and ordered Thomas' boyfriend, Thomas Onley, out of the vehicle. He handcuffed Onley and made him lie down with the gun pointed to his head, the complaint says.

The officers then called for backup.

"They proceeded to tell me, Deborah Thomas, to get out of the car. With two guns pointed to my head. When I got out of the car they handcuffed me," and had her sit on the porch of her home, the complaint alleges.

The couple was detained for more than half an hour and never charged, read their rights, or given an explanation as to why they were stopped, Thomas said Monday.

The police eventually removed the handcuffs, took pictures of both of them and left, she said.

"We didn't do anything wrong," Thomas said.

She identified the officers as Sgt. Carvel Wright, Officer Carl Hook and Officer Tammy Miller. There was another officer she said she could not identify.

The actions alleged in the complaint filed Monday took place the same day two men were wounded in separate shootings on North Avenue. Police would not comment on whether the incidents were related.

Thomas' complaint will be investigated by the city police department's Professional Standards Division, headed by Lt. Robert Frick.

Citizens must file complaints within 90 days of an incident and sign a notarized form.

The Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights sets out a procedure in serious cases. Officers have the right to have their cases heard by a panel of police officers.

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

Frick said a policy failure means a policy is unclear or insufficient.

He said 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.

Most are minor, he said. Less than 5 percent involve allegations of brutality or excessive force.

He said about 60 percent of complaints are sustained.

In those, the chief determines the penalties, which can range from counseling the officer about the action to a formal letter of reprimand to dismissal.

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