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Washington County Ethics Commission report on Cromer complaint

August 01, 2008

The following is a copy of the Washington County Ethics Commission's report on its decision in the complaint filed against Hagerstown City Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer:




Hagerstown resident Cathy Ridenour filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission to determine whether the acts set forth herein constitute a violation of the City's Code of Ethics (Chapter 33 of the Hagerstown City Code).

This complaint arises out of a traffic stop involving Kelly S. Cromer. Ms. Cromer, Ms. Ridenour, and Officer Watt were invited to present oral or written statements to the Commission concerning this matter. The Commission reviewed Ms. Ridenour's complaint and secured, sua sponte, and studied a copy of the Hagerstown Police Department Supplement Report of Incident No. 08-4106 prepared by Officer Watt. Ms. Cromer and Elisha Elliott gave statements to the Commission. Hagerstown Police Department requested that the Commission base its decision on Officer Watt's report.

Question Presented

Did Ms. Cromer violate Section 33-3 of the Code by using the prestige of her office as a City Councilperson for her own benefit?

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Background

In evaluating this matter, we rely on the facts and allegation contained in Officer Watt's Report and in statements from Ms. Cromer and Elliott.

Ms. Cromer, a criminal defense attorney, is a member of the Hagerstown City Council and the wife of Steve Cromer, a 28-year former member of the Hagerstown Police Department (HPD). On May 26, 2008, HPD Officer Christopher Watt stopped Ms. Cromer for allegedly driving 43 mph in a 25 mph zone. Ms. Elliott was a passenger in the Cromer vehicle. Ms. Cromer told the Commission that she knew Officer Watt prior to the traffic stop, both from her work as a defense attorney and through her husband's social and occupational interactions.

When Officer Watt approached the vehicle, he recognized Ms. Cromer. In accordance with procedure, he asked Ms. Cromer for her license and the vehicle's registration. Ms. Cromer was operating her husband's vehicle and initially had difficulty locating the registration certificate. The registration certificate was eventually located and provided to the officer. According to the Officer's Report, Ms. Cromer, after initially being unable to find the registration and while continuing to search for the certificate, asked Officer Watt, "Do you know who I am?"

Ms. Cromer and Ms. Elliott were returning from a weekend trip, and Ms. Cromer's license was in her purse, which was packed in her luggage. The luggage was stowed under other items, making access to it difficult without unloading the vehicle. Ms. Cromer told the officer that her license was packed in her luggage and retrieving it would require some effort. According to Ms. Cromer, and substantiated by Ms. Elliott, Ms. Cromer asked Officer Watt, "You know who I am, right?" Officer Watt responded affirmatively and, the Officer noted that after that she located the registration, Ms. Cromer offered to get her license from the luggage in back. The Officer, to spare the women the burden of unloading and reloading the vehicle, acknowledged that she didn't need to her extract her license. He then asked for her full name and date of birth to facilitate a records check. Ms. Cromer provided this information.

Ms. Cromer asked Officer Watt why she was stopped, and he informed her that she was speeding. Before Officer Watt returned to his car to run her license and registration, Ms. Cromer asked, "Are you going to give me a ticket or a warning." According to Ms. Cromer, the comment was not meant to imply a request for a preferable outcome from the stop, but was merely meant to elicit information as to whether she would be getting a citation or a warning.

The Report indicated that Ms. Cromer had an "attitude" and used a "sarcastic tone" while making two of the statements noted in the report. Ms. Cromer admitted that her personality is such that she is often perceived to be sarcastic, even when she has no definite intention to employ sarcasm. Ms. Elliott stated that she heard the entire interaction between Ms. Cromer and Officer Watt and did not notice any "attitude" or "sarcastic tone." She said that Ms. Cromer was never disrespectful to the officer.

At the conclusion of the traffic stop, Officer Watt exercised his discretion and issued Ms. Cromer a warning. After coverage of this incident by the media, Ms. Ridenour filed a complaint with the Commission.

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