7 suspended Pr. Geo.'s cops back
Seven suspended Prince George's County police officers were returned to full duty Wednesday night in what police officials say was an effort to clear those who were accused wrongly and put back to work those whose conduct did not warrant keeping them off the streets.
The group of seven includes a deputy chief whose wife had accused him of taking a "closed fist" swing at her, an officer who did not find a gun when he was searching a suspect and an officer accused of reacting inappropriately during a double shooting at a Bowie banquet hall. It also includes four of the officers working security at a Beltsville warehouse when an officer was accused of punching a college student.
Maj. Andrew Ellis, the department's public affairs commander, said the police department's executive review panel, which normally probes officer-involved shootings, decided collectively to bring each of those officers back.
Interim chief Mark Magaw had said that the panel -- composed of the department's deputy chiefs, an internal affairs representative, a training representative and a county lawyer -- would be reviewing all cases where officers had been suspended.
The move drew immediate praise from the police union, whose president said many of the investigations already had been completed and the officers cleared of serious wrongdoing. But it also drew the ire of a community coalition that had worried previously that the ouster of police chief Roberto Hylton might usher in a new era in which officers were not held accountable.
Hakim Muhammad, president of the Kingswood Civic Association and a member of the broader Coalition of Prince George's County Organizations and Leaders, said he was "suspicious" of so many officers being returned to duty so quickly.
"I'm just really curious as to how thoroughly they've investigated the officers," he said. "Something's wrong with that picture."
Ellis said that even with the seven officers coming back, 39 remain on suspension or desk duty. Their cases, he said, also were looked at by the executive review panel.
"This was not just Chief Magaw making a decision arbitrarily to put people back to duty based on what he thought," Ellis said. "This was a group of knowledgeable police employees ... that made these recommendations."
The rationale for bringing officers back varied from case to case, Ellis said.
The deputy chief accused of domestic violence was cleared in court months ago, and internal affairs investigators found no evidence he did anything wrong, according to Ellis and court records.
The four officers from the Beltsville incident are still being investigated, but at worst, they committed "procedural violations," Ellis said. None was accused of punching the student. Hylton had suspended them because they might have witnessed the incident and not reported it.
The rationale is the same in the case of the officer who acted improperly on the scene of a double shooting in Bowie. His case remains open, "but there's nothing to indicate serious wrongdoing on his part," Ellis said.
The officer who failed to find a gun on a suspect could still face "heavy sanctions," but they would fall short of firing, Ellis said. For that reason, it did not make sense to keep him off the streets, Ellis said. He had been suspended since January, according to internal department records.
An eighth officer accused of drinking and driving also was moved to desk duty, but Ellis said that is standard procedure so the department can get some productivity out of an employee in trouble. The officer, he said, still has no gun or police powers.
Vince Canales, president of the county's fraternal order of police, said the decision to restore the seven officers shows a "different mentality and mindset" in the department. He said he disagreed with Hylton's suspending officers in some of the cases or leaving them suspended in others.
"I think that you will probably find even more accountability" under Magaw, Canales said. "Yes, while there are consequences to their actions, the consequences will be appropriate and fitting."
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