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Man found not guilty of impersonating emergency responder

September 07, 2010|By DON AINES

A 20-year-old Hagerstown man charged with impersonating an emergency responder at a crash scene earlier this year was found not guilty Tuesday in Washington County Circuit Court.

Circuit Judge Daniel P. Dwyer said he could not find Forrest Jordan Gunter guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on charges of impersonating and conspiring to impersonate an emergency responder.

"Although I think Mr. Gunter is probably guilty," Dwyer said.

Before announcing the verdict, Dwyer granted defense attorney David Harbin's motion for a judgment of acquittal on charges of obstructing and conspiring to obstruct police.

On Feb. 13, Maryland State Police were on Interstate 81 at the scene of a crash involving a car and a tractor-trailer, Trooper 1st Class Michael Hegedus testified. Traffic was at "a dead stop" when a car with flashing lights drove up the shoulder, he testified.

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Two men with portable radios got out and donned green vests with "Emergency Services" written on the back, Hegedus testified. He questioned driver David Melvin Graven and Gunter as to whether they were with a fire company, fire police or emergency medical services, Hegedus testified.

Hegedus testified he could not recall who answered what questions, but that Gunter and Graven said they were not with an emergency services unit, but with a group called REACT.

On cross-examination by Harbin, Hegedus testified the car did not block any emergency vehicles and both men left when told to do so.

When Harbin asked if anyone could purchase the green reflective vests, Hegedus said, "Unfortunately, yes."

Trooper 1st Class James Bowers testified that he saw the vehicle in which Graven and Gunter arrived, but he could only recall seeing one man in a green vest.

Gunter testified Graven wore a vest, but that he did not.

In his motion for acquittal on the impersonation charges, Harbin said the law prohibits wearing "for the purpose of deception, a uniform, shield, button, ornament, identification, or shoulder patch, or a simulation or imitation of these articles, adopted by a career or volunteer fire department, rescue squad, or emergency services unit."

Gunter did not try to deceive the officer into believing he was with an emergency unit, nor do anything to prevent Hegedus from performing his duties, Harbin said. There was no testimony to indicate the presence of any emergency unit emblems on the vests, he said.

Graven pleaded guilty in July to using flashing lights on an unauthorized vehicle, court documents show. Charges of impersonating and conspiring to impersonate an emergency responder, hindering and conspiring to hinder police and two traffic violations were placed on the inactive docket, documents show.

Gunter was given a suspended sentence and probation in March after pleading guilty to carrying a concealed weapon -- a collapsible baton -- in Hagerstown in 2009, court records show. Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III ordered Gunter not to possess anything resembling police equipment unless part of his job as an agent for a licensed bail bondsman.

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