They were driving through the parking lot at Harborplace, jus between the Maryland Science Center and the Light Street Pavilion, when they noticed the police car just behind them.
Hilda Szklo pulled her car to one side. She'd spotted the driver of a parked car who was ready to pull out, and she wanted to give the police car room to slip past her while she waited for the parking space. But the policeman started honking his horn.
Szklo, 51 years old, a native of Brazil who has lived here for 20 years and is a policy officer for the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, turned to her friend, Dr. Richard Mertz. He is a 65-year old retired history professor who suffers from a heart condition. Neither understood why the policeman was honking at them.
And here is what they say happened to them in the next few moments, on this afternoon of April 13:
"Do you want to pass us?" Dr. Mertz called out, opening his door and calling to the policeman.
"Get the hell back in your car and get out of here," Officer William McLaughlin, working motorized patrol, called back.
"We're just waiting for this parking space."
"Can't you follow orders? I told you to get the hell out of here."
Thinking perhaps the officer hadn't heard him, Mertz started once more to explain. McLaughlin got out of his car, moving his hand toward his revolver. Mertz got into his car, looking stricken. Hilda Szklo, worried about his heart, got out of the car to tell McLaughlin about Mertz.
"He might have a heart attack," she cried.
McLaughlin, noting her accent, sneeringly declared, "You go back where you came from."
"We only wanted this space," Szklo replied, noting that the parked car had pulled out and another car slipped into the vacant spot.
"You're a liar," McLaughlin said.
Now, as Szklo and Mertz tell the story, McLaughlin suddenly struck Szklo in her face, knocking her backward into a parked van.
Then he struck her again in the face and upper body while crying out, "You're assaulting a police officer."
Now Mertz, getting out of the car again, moved between McLaughlin and Szklo. Crying, "He's crazy, he's crazy," he tried to shield Szklo and told her to run away. McLaughlin put a choke-hold around Mertz's neck, handcuffed him and threw him against a car while Szklo ran to a nearby elderly couple and
yelled, "Call the police, he's attacking us."
McLaughlin ran to Szklo and cuffed her hands behind her as the front of her dress flew open. More police arrived, to take them to Central District, where they were charged with battery and resisting arrest. Locked up at the Baltimore Detention Center, they were released late that night.
"A humiliating experience," Hilda Szklo says now. "We never did anything to provoke this. We've never caused trouble in our entire lives, and now we're made to feel like criminals. I was afraid to tell my husband, that he might have a heart attack."
Her husband is Dr. Moyses Szklo, director of the Chronic Disease Epidemiology Program at the Johns Hopkins University.
Meanwhile, Officer McLaughlin's arrest report says that Hilda Szklo "shoved me with her body" and that, when he moved to arrest her, Mertz "struck" him in the back and right arm.
Szklo and Mertz hired an attorney, Robert T. Shaffer III, who contacted Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke about the incident.
The mayor pronounced himself "shocked almost beyond belief," met with Szklo and Mertz and then called Police Commissioner Edward Woods, who ordered a "full investigation."
Yesterday, a police spokesman said no investigation had begun, because no official complaint had been filed by Szklo and Mertz. They say they will not file a complaint until their case comes to court. It was scheduled to be heard yesterday, but was postponed until next month.
In the meantime, the two defendants are looking for witnesses.
"The officer was immensely violent," Hilda Szklo said.
"We did nothing to provoke him. Anyone who was there that day can confirm this."
The police say they will monitor next month's trial, and proceed with an internal investigation if charges are filed.