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Police criticized for delaying release of school assault report

November 02, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Hagerstown's mayor and two City Council members said Tuesday that news about a sexual assault at North Hagerstown High School last week should have been released sooner than it was.

"I was upset," Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said during the comments portion of Tuesday's council meeting.

"If I had a 16-year-old daughter at North High I would want to know," he said.

Metzner said new Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur R. Smith started work on Monday and he hoped press relations would improve under his command.

Councilman Alfred W. Boyer defended the decision by Hagerstown City Police to wait two days, and until after an arrest had been made, before releasing a statement about the sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl on Oct. 25.

Boyer said announcing the crime occurred could have hindered the police investigation, which was why police and school officials said they kept the assault a secret.

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"Isn't there the danger the criminal could take flight?" Boyer asked.

Metzner said he wanted city police officials to explain to the council why they didn't release information about the assault sooner.

He also questioned how releasing information about the incident could have hindered the investigation.

"We need some answers so this doesn't happen again," he said.

Metzner said he would expect the criminal to be well aware that police knew about and were investigating the assault even without media reports of the incident.

He said that leading a criminal to believe the police were not investigating the case "is an invitation (for the criminal) to continue the action."

"What if during that three-day period another 14-year-old was sexually assaulted?" Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein asked.

"The school should have notified (the parents) on Tuesday," said Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, who has a child who attends North High.

Bruchey and other parents of North High students were first told about the incident in a letter from the principal sent home with students last Thursday - three days after the sexual assault.

According to court documents, sometime after 5:15 p.m. on Oct. 25, a 14-year-old girl walked into the school with a man who asked her to help him find his daughter.

The man then forced the girl into an empty room and sexually assaulted her at knifepoint.

The girl picked her attacker from a photo lineup Oct. 27.

Later that day police arrested Bradley Wayne Rinehart, 31, of 940 A Main Ave., Hagerstown. He is being held without bond at the Washington County Detention Center.

A police department statement about the incident was sent to the media after the arrest.

Councilman William M. Breichner said Tuesday: "We have a new chief now and if a mistake was made it's done and over."

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