Why did a detective continue to interrogate a woman after she invoked her right to have a lawyer present? It's a question that Carroll County law enforcement has been grappling with since last fall -- and one that last week sank a prosecution in the case of a Baltimore City teenager who died at Bowling Brook Academy in 2007.
In internal memos circulated last fall, officials in the state's attorney's and sheriff's offices discussed detective Douglas Epperson's descriptions of the questioning in the murder case of Jeremiah P. DeMario, who was killed in 2010. Charges in that case were dropped because of other problems with evidence, but concerns about Epperson's conduct wound up leading the state to withdraw reckless-endangerment counts in the separate death of Isaiah Simmons at the youth academy. Epperson was lead investigator in both cases.
In pretrial hearings in the DeMario case, Epperson made conflicting statements about his interrogation under oath, which the sheriff's office says has spurred a perjury inquiry.
One of the documents contains a statement from a fellow officer, who says Epperson was told to continue interrogating the woman by a supervisor who said, "She is a witness, she has no rights, get back in there." In another document, a prosecutor tells colleagues about a conversation she had with Epperson’s supervisor Maj. Nicholas A. Plazio in which he denies giving the detective such an order.
In two hearings early in 2011, Epperson testified that he interrogated the woman on the morning of Sept. 14 after she invoked her right to have a lawyer present. He said he did that because he considered her a witness, not a suspect. In another hearing in October, however, Epperson testified that he continued the interrogation because he was ordered to do so by Plazio.
Interoffice memos among the state's attorney's staff wouldn't usually be public, but these were included in case files at the courthouse in Westminster. (Scroll down to read the documents.)