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Lots of violations of stay-at-home order but few arrests as Baltimore-area police adjust to coronavirus

Maryland State Police charged a suspect who caused a crash in Baltimore County. Baltimore Police charged a beauty supply store owner after more than 20 people crowded into the shop.

But when police in Howard County caught a group playing basketball, they decided not to file any charges.

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Police officers across the state have received hundreds of complaints asking them to enforce the governor’s executive orders to rein in the deadly coronavirus. But local police agencies around the Baltimore region say most people they encounter willingly disperse, and data shows that officers have issued few citations.

On March 30, one of the more restrictive of Gov. Larry Hogan executive order’s limited residents from leaving home with the exception of “essential activities,” including going to work or to the grocery store or exercising. Violations carry a fine of up to $5,000 and up to one year in prison.

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Just before that order was announced, a Charles County man was charged with two counts of violating the emergency order after police said he hosted a bonfire party at his home.

Shawn Marshall Myers, 41, of Charles County was charged with violating Gov. Hogan's executive order that limits crowd size to 10 people or less. He is one of a small number arrested, as police try to issue warnings when possible.
Shawn Marshall Myers, 41, of Charles County was charged with violating Gov. Hogan's executive order that limits crowd size to 10 people or less. He is one of a small number arrested, as police try to issue warnings when possible. (Charles County Sheriff's Office/Charles County Sheriff's Office)

But that high-profile arrest is a rarity as several agencies said they try to encourage voluntary compliance before issuing charges.

“We’re trying to use more of education and mitigation approach,” Baltimore County Police spokeswoman Sgt. Vickie Warehime said. "This is still our community, we still have to have good relationships” when the restrictions related to the virus are eased, she said.

Warehime said a county task force has received 420 complaints since March 18th, when the state announced its first coronavirus death. Those complaints are forwarded to the appropriate agency, whether its police, the liquor board or another agency, but none have resulted in arrests, she said.

“All calls were successfully resolved and to date no charges or arrests have been made,” she said.

Previously, county officials have said cease and desist orders were issued to a gym and a barbershop on the east side of Baltimore County after they were found to be operating despite the order.

Police have only charge two people in Baltimore, where the department has asked officers to give repeated warnings. Officers also have resorted to blaring a recording over police car sound systems telling residents: “Even if you aren’t showing symptoms, you could still have coronavirus and accidentally spread it to a relative or neighbor. Being home is being safe. We are all in this together.”

Officers also are required to seek a supervisor’s permission before issuing charges.

On April 1, officers were called to the “Super Beauty” supply store in the Mount Clare Junction shopping center in Southwest Baltimore where about 20 people were crowded into the shop, according to a police report. A plainclothes officer told the manager that the shop was not considered an essential business and the manager agreed to close the store.

But about a week later, police received a second call about the store being full of shoppers, and the manager told officers he was instructed by the store’s owner, James Hwang to open. Officers issued a criminal citation against Hwang, charging him with four counts of violating the order. Hwang couldn’t be reached for comment Friday and didn’t have an attorney listed in online court records.

Last week, police issued multiple warnings to a 19-year-old woman seen outside a vacant home in the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello neighborhood three different times. An officer issued a criminal citation after she was found not to be in the area for any essential reasons, but rather suspected of selling drugs.

Meanwhile, Maryland State Police have charged at least seven people with violating orders, but all of the cases appear to be in connection with other charges, including the case of a Lutherville man charged with violating the governor’s executive order, along with 10 counts of allowing a minor to possess alcohol, after police said he hosted a party for teenagers at a Carroll County hotel.

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State Police Superintendent Colonel Woodrow Jones III previously directed troopers not to make traffic stops solely to determine whether the driver’s travel was essential. But officers can issue charges for violations of the order if that’s what they find out during the course of a routine traffic stop or crash investigation.

When a trooper stopped a driver in Queen Anne’s County for a traffic stop, state police said the suspect dragged the trooper while attempting to flee. That person was charged with multiple criminal offenses, including violation of the order.

Another person operating a pawn shop was in Queen Anne’s County was charged with violating the order after troopers were called multiple times to the shop.

There are plenty of examples of violations being applied along with an initial criminal charge. Those include people charged with traffic violations, including a DUI in Cecil County, a person operating an unregistered motorcycle in Prince George’s County, and another person charged in a Baltimore County car crash.

Similarly, police in Anne Arundel County said officers have charged five people with violating the order, but that the charges were “not the primary charge," police spokeswoman Sgt. Jacklyn Davis said.

The department has responded to more than 400 calls related to violations. Davis said officers found no violation in 299 calls and issued warnings in the rest.

“Everybody has been very, very understanding," Davis said. “We’ve been very lucky here.”

A Harford County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said two people have been charged with violating the governor’s orders, though those charges were in addition to other charges in both cases.

In Howard County, police have responded to 23 incidents for large gatherings, including kids playing basketball, said department spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.

“In all of those cases, people dispersed voluntarily upon the officers’ requests,” she said.

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