An Anne Arundel police officer sent to break up a fistfight in Severn Tuesday night attracted an angry crowd of 300 onlookers who surrounded and jostled her.
Besieged, Officer Michele McLaughlin hit the orange distress button on her hand-held radio. Within minutes, at least 60 on- and off-duty officers from Anne Arundel and Baltimore and state troopers arrived on the scene, county police reported yesterday.
"It was like chaos," said the 28-year-old Arwell Court resident who had seen the rowdy crowd and called 911. "They could have flicked that woman on the ground and got her gun and shot around. I said, 'In two minutes, there could be someone dead here.' "
Three people, including a juvenile, were arrested. Police said Stanley Miller, 19, of the 1900 block of Arwell Court, was charged with two counts of assault and battery and resisting arrest. A 17-year-old boy from Columbia was charged with one count of assault and resisting arrest. Lamont Lee Fowlkes, 20, of the 1100 block of Crystal Run in Columbia, was charged with three counts of assault and battery.
Officer McLaughlin arrived in the 1800 block of Arwell Court about 7 p.m. to break up a fight among five men. A woman watching the fight said one man had a gun.
The officer approached the suspected gunman and ordered him to put his hands where she could see them. The suspect refused, saying, "No you can't touch me," the police report said.
As the man turned away, the officer grabbed his shirt, but he knocked her arm away. She told the man she needed to frisk him, but he pushed her away with both hands, the police report said.
The officer then tried to arrest the man for assaulting an officer, but as she tried, a 17-year-old youth pulled her arms away. The officer made another attempt to arrest the man, but he broke away, thrashing his arms, and ran into the gathering crowd.
The officer then attempted to arrest the teen-ager for assaulting an officer, but several people from the crowd pulled her back, the report and witnesses said.
As the crowd closed in, Officer McLaughlin tripped the switch for a "Signal 13," the highest-priority call for help.
Within two minutes, police cars began lining up on Arwell Court. Witnesses said there were so many cars that no one could drive in or out of the area.
"I don't think we respond to shootings as fast as we do to Signal 13, because it's often one of our own" in trouble, said Lt. Dennis Bailey, Officer McLaughlin's supervisor and one of the first to arrive. "I won't tell you how fast I was going."
The amassed force quickly dispersed the crowd. By 8 p.m., the neighborhood was quiet.
Yesterday, three Western District police officers canvassed the neighborhood to let residents air their feelings about the incident.
"We're going to continue to feel [the community] out -- if any bridges need to be rebuilt," said Capt. Timothy R. Bowman, the Western District commander. "Our first read is that we did not have a community problem, just a fight."
Some residents said police used too much force on the juvenile, whose relatives said was in a serious car accident last month.
Officer McLaughlin, 27, who has covered the beat for a month, was back on the job yesterday. She said was scared during the standoff but had faith in her fellow officers.
"If you call for it," she said, "they'll be there for you."