Although he is less than a month away from retirement, Lt. Michael McNelly of the Anne Arundel County Police Department is determined to remain a cop to the bitter end.
The 48-year-old head of the department's crimes-against-persons section briefly became a patrol officer Thursday afternoon when he chased and arrested two suspects on drug charges, police said.
Lieutenant McNelly had been off-duty when he noticed a Cadillac Eldorado speed away from Captain Kidd's Liquor Store in Deale around 5:15 p.m. The Cadillac, with three men inside, was southbound on Route 256, police said. Lieutenant McNelly said the car was going 15 mph to 20 mph over the speed limit.
"My intention was to follow them and warn them when they stopped or pulled over, but they kept accelerating through the community," Lieutenant McNelly said at his office yesterday afternoon.
He followed the car, lost it briefly and then picked up the chase again on westbound Marshall Street. At some point, one of the men got out.
The lieutenant flipped on the --board beacon of his unmarked cruiser, then stopped the car on Route 256 near Rockhold Creek Road and called for a uniformed backup. Lieutenant McNelly said he honked his horn and motioned for the driver to walk back. When the driver arrived, the plainclothes officer introduced himself: "I'm Lieutenant McNelly with the Anne Arundel County police."
The 26-year department veteran asked the driver, Joseph Connor Collinson, if he had ever been arrested before. The suspect replied that he was on probation for possession of marijuana in Calvert County, a police report said.
"Then I asked him if he had any drugs in the car," Lieutenant McNelly recalled. "He said, 'No. And you can search it if you want to.' "
The lieutenant and an officer from the Southern District took him up on the offer. They found two open cans of beer and a blue book bag on the floor behind the front passenger seat that contained one-quarter of a pound of suspected marijuana, a police report said.
The street value of the marijuana was about $700, said Lieutenant McNelly, who has been the head of the crimes-against-persons section since January 1993.
Mr. Collinson, 20, of the 5700 block of Greenock Road in Lothian and Guy N. Harding, 18, of the 400 block of Marlboro Road in Lothian were each charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
Mr. Collinson's Cadillac was seized by police, Lieutenant McNelly said. An investigation of both men after the arrest led police to seize Mr. Harding's Mazda on Friday, the lieutenant said.
Although he had been off work at the time, Lieutenant McNelly said police officers know there is really no such thing as off-duty.
"I was at the very least going to slow them down before they caused an accident," he said. "They were cruising through a residential neighborhood at least 15 miles an hour over the speed limit. I didn't know the location of the nearest police car, so I pulled them over."
Lieutenant McNelly said he did what any officer would do. "We're obligated to take some kind of action when we think somebody may be hurt."