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Former Little League umpire arrested

June 21, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Ricky A. Hockensmith, a former National Little League umpire and manager who has tangled with league officials over the past several months, was charged Friday with violating a league order to stay off the league's property.

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Hockensmith, 46, of 9808 Wandering Lane, arrived at the field next to the Washington County school system's offices at about 4:30 p.m. to watch his 10-year-old son, Michael, play ball.

Steve Cromer, a Hagerstown City Police officer and the manager of the opposing team, asked Hockensmith to leave. When he refused, league officials contacted the police.

"The board definitely did not want him to be arrested. That's the last thing we want," said Kelly Stebbins, president of the league's board. "This last time, he was asked to leave, and he refused."

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Stebbins said Hockensmith gave league officials and police no choice.

Hockensmith was arrested because he violated a no-trespass order the National Little League issued last month. Hockensmith said he was causing no trouble.

"They didn't hesitate to arrest me for sitting in the bleachers waiting to see my kid play," he said. "I think it was an illegal ban. I think it was an illegal arrest."

Police Officer Wayne Hose asked Hockensmith to leave and arrested him when he refused, according to charging documents filed in Washington County District Court.

Hockensmith said he was handcuffed and driven to police headquarters, where he was photographed and fingerprinted.

After officers completed the arrest paperwork, Hockensmith said he was placed in leg shackles and taken before a District Court commissioner.

"I found that to be very humiliating," he said.

The court commissioner released Hockensmith without bail on Friday evening on the promise he would be in District Court for an Aug. 25 trial.

Capt. Robert Hart, the Police Department's acting chief, said he wasn't familiar with this case. He said organizations that bar individuals from their premises must send the department a letter identifying the person. Police can arrest people on that list if they are still on the property when officers arrive, he said.

Hart said it is police policy to place all suspects in leg shackles when they are taken before court commissioners.

"We've had prisoners in the past who have taken off running on us," he said.

A letter dated May 29 informed Hockensmith that the National Little League board of directors had voted to bar him from the property because his actions had been judged "detrimental."

The letter cited an opinion from Hagerstown's attorney that the league, which leases the property at 726 Frederick St. from the city, can ban "anyone they feel is an undesirable presence."

Hockensmith said the board acted against him because he was handing out fliers to parents during games. The fliers explained changes to the league's constitution and urged people to contact Little League regional headquarters in Bristol, Conn.

Hockensmith said attempts to ban him from games were designed to silence his efforts to reform the league, which he said has run afoul of Little League's intent and traditions.

Stebbins said Hockensmith was spreading false information and undermining the board. She said the board moved against him because it received "numerous complaints of him being a nuisance and harassing members of the Little League."

"He is just constantly bothering people, to put it nicely," she said. "If people don't want to hear what he has to say and walk away, he follows them."

Stebbins said the complaints against Hockensmith were "too numerous to count."

She also denied the league was violating his free-speech rights.

"He can stand on that hill (beyond the property line) and talk to anyone he wants and say anything he wants to," she said. "He just can't do it on our property."

Hagerstown Public Works Manager Douglas Stull said all Little League organizations that use city-owned land signed five-year lease agreements this year. The agreements give the leagues control of the fields and concession buildings during the baseball season.

At least one league board member thought arresting Hockensmith was going too far.

Angie Sutherland, who was the league's player agent this year, said she resigned on Saturday because of the incident.

"I tried to stick it out with the board. What they did was unreal," she said. "He was a parent. He has kids down there."

Sutherland said board members should have ignored Hockensmith and thrown away his fliers if the information on them was incorrect.

"All he did was hand out a piece of paper which they didn't agree with," she said. "Rick is a person who can push your buttons. (But) this wasn't worth doing this to the league."

Hockensmith, his brother and his father all have served as Little League umpires. In addition, Ricky Hockensmith has been a manager for National in the past.

Hockensmith, who works for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, has clashed with league officials for more than a year. Last year, when he refused to allow his team to finish a game after a dispute with another manager, the league voted to revoke his membership.

Stebbins said the league invited Hockensmith to a special meeting on Saturday to discuss lifting the ban. But she said he provoked the arrest.

"A rational person would have said, 'Sorry, officer,' and gone up on the hill," she said.

Hockensmith said he went to the field after his attorney advised him that he had a right to be there.

"I didn't know what they would do, but I did not think they would have me arrested," he said.

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