'Person of interest' discovers FBI has no sense of humor

May 22, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

Only in Amerika would a government be so comprehensive that it would have provisions on its books to give "a person of interest" a ticket for "walking to create hazard."

If you haven't been following the case of Steven Hatfill, a former researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick, this may be a good entry point.

Hatfill's name has been bandied about in the press and by law-enforcement officials in connection to the round of deadly anthrax attacks in late 2001, although he's never been charged with anything.

Amerika's attorney general, John Ashcroft, won't even go so far as to call him a suspect, designating him instead as "a person of interest." I suppose that's sort of like "a player to be named later." If the Orioles trade Melvin Mora for "a person of interest," we'll know who their new utility infielder will be.


The FBI in particular is "interested," and they've been on Hatfill like fat on Anna Nichole. Not that the FBI (Richard Jewell) has ever been wrong about anything, but they are following him around everywhere and making noise about draining a pond near Hatfill's home where they believe evidence may have been tossed.

(I'd like it if they drained the pond and found Babe Ruth's piano. If two people get that joke I'll be happy.)

So every time Hatfill looks out the window it's like the Simpsons where he sees a florist delivery van parked at the curb with "Flowers By Irine" on the side and little satellite dishes on top.

According to the Associated Press, agents watch Hatfill around the clock and tail him when he leaves his home.

This would get old fast, and apparently it came to a head last week when he and his girlfriend were driving to Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

He was being followed "by several vehicles" - which seems like a lot for an egghead, but perhaps he possesses Matrix-like powers and can run up the side of skyscrapers.

According to Hatfill's spokesman, he had been videotaped all day so he decided a little turnabout would be fair play. He pulled into a parking space, got out, and started taking pictures of a green government SUV that was in the lead.

After what happened next, Hatfill was probably thinking "Memo to self: FBI agents are short on sense of humor."

The SUV struck Hatfill, leaving him with scrapes and a bruised foot, and took off.

But this is the best part - it was Hatfill who was given a ticket for "walking to create hazard."

That reminds me of the story about the Mafia and the corrupt police force. Police find a man at the bottom of the East River with his hands and feet cast in concrete and the chief calls it "the worst case of suicide I've ever seen."

What I'm curious about though, is what compelled a government to outlaw hazardous walking in the first place? Did some councilman live next door to Godzilla?

And if Hatfill gets a ticket for this, why didn't they bust down the meter maid that got in front of Randy Moss?

Obviously I have no idea what the government knows or doesn't know about any alleged criminal behavior on Hatfill's part. But the upshot is, if you or I as private citizens had been driving the green SUV we'd have gotten citations for stalking, assault, failure to yield the right-of-way, reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident and wearing a twisted seatbelt.

But because this is Amerika, the feds can do whatever they please and the dude who gets smacked gets the ticket.

Hatfill's spokesman says the government should either charge him or leave him alone.

Perhaps, but if I knew I were being followed wherever I went I'd at least have some fun with it. Make the agents sit through a couple of Catholic weddings or a Norah Jones concert. I'd go to every Place of Agony I could think of, just to see what the gumshoes could endure. The MVA, zoning board meetings, self-help lectures, daycare centers, Comerica Park.

Or treat them to a couple of strip joints or something. Nothing like visiting a brothel with 20 guys with dark glasses and earpieces waiting for you in the lobby.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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