Cromer says traffic stop part of vendetta

June 13, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- A Hagerstown councilwoman said a recent traffic stop in which she was pulled over by an officer for allegedly speeding could be construed as evidence that she is the subject of a vendetta for questioning the necessity of a long-running city program.

Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer said she believes some city officials, including members of the police department, want to harass her because she is trying to limit the number of city-owned vehicles that municipal employees are allowed to drive home from work.

Last month, Cromer suggested to the council that the city investigate the validity of the take-home vehicle program in the wake of rising gas prices.

Police officers drive 19 of the 48 vehicles that are part of the city's take-home vehicle program, according to city records. The remaining 29 are driven by employees of the Public Works, Parks, Fire, Sewer, Water and Light departments.


Cromer, the wife of a former city police officer, said she doubted whether she was speeding when Officer Christopher Watt pulled her over May 26 for allegedly driving 43 mph in a 25 mph zone in the 100 block of South Walnut Street.

Cromer said she saw the officer while she was idling at a stop light and, as a result, wouldn't have been speeding.

She contended that Watt singled her out from among two other drivers who were traveling at about the same speed.

"(I) thought it was a little odd," she said.

Watt wrote in a supplemental report to the officer's investigative report that while Cromer searched for the registration of the SUV she was driving "She looked at me and stated 'Do you know who I am?' When she asked that question I could sense an attitude and sarcastic tone in her voice."

Cromer contended that Watt "lied" when he reported that she used those exact words and suggested her comment was taken out of context.

She couldn't initially find the registration because she was in her husband's vehicle, and her driver's license was in her luggage, Cromer said. She offered to get it, but asked Watt whether that would be necessary if he already knew who she was.

At one point, Cromer asked why she was being stopped, Watt wrote.

"Again, I could sense a sarcastic attitude from her voice and body language ...," Watt wrote. He noted in the supplemental report that it was at that point that he informed Cromer that she was going 43 mph in a 25 mph zone.

At one point, Watt wrote, "she asked 'Are you going to give me a ticket or a warning?' I then informed her that I had not made that decision yet ..."

Watt reported he called Hagerstown Police Sgt. Mark E. Renner for advice, and Renner told him to use his discretion.

Watt issued a written warning, according to the report.

Watt said he informed Cromer that he was issuing a written warning and "began to remind her that the speed limit is 25 mph because it is considered a residential neighborhood and because of the amount of foot traffic at the city park. ... She cut me off and replied in a sarcastic manner again, stating 'I know, I live a block away.'"

Cromer said her tone is usually sarcastic and at no time did she try to use her position on the council to receive preferential treatment.

Nearly two years ago, Councilwoman Alesia Parson-McBean was the subject of an ethics investigation after she was pulled over for driving with an expired registration.

In that case, Parson-McBean also was quoted as asking the officer "Do you know who I am?" after she was pulled over.

A Hagerstown police lieutenant drove Parson-McBean to the Motor Vehicle Administration so she could renew her registration and then drove her back to her vehicle.

Parson-McBean publicly apologized for the incident.

The Washington County Ethics Commission ruled that Parson-McBean violated the city's ethics code by using "the prestige of her position" to obtain benefits not afforded to the general public.

Afterward, the city council voted 3-2 to accept Parson-McBean's apology and her offer to donate $60 each to the Memorial Recreation Center and the Police Athletic League but to take no further action.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said he would not file an ethics complaint against Cromer, "but what will happen, I do not know."

He said he doubted whether Watt lied in the report because Cromer lately has had a habit of calling several city officials liars.

"I think it's indicative of her tone with everyone that I've seen recently," Metzner said. "I have no reason not to believe the officer."

Metzner said Cromer shouldn't have taken a sarcastic tone with Watt.

"That's no way for any citizen to act with a police officer - let alone an elected official," he said.

Metzner said that had he been pulled over, he would have insisted on receiving a ticket.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said officers are told to use their discretion when writing tickets.

As far as Cromer calling Watt a liar, Smith said, "My personal opinion is that Watt is absolutely trustworthy."

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