An article in Saturday's Maryland section incorrectly reported that a witness to an alleged assault involving a parking valet and a city official lives in Little Italy. In fact, Iris Maggio lives in Anne Arundel County.
The Sun regrets the error.
The right to earn a living, the right to eat and the right to the road clashed the other night in Little Italy, resulting in an animated argument between a city official and a parking valet that threatens to send both to court.
Albert Blattermann, a civilian ombudsman for the city's housing authority, objected to a valet blocking a narrow street with a car Thursday evening at La Tavola restaurant and allegedly played cop in the tourist enclave.
The 22-year-old parking attendant, Michael DePasquale, said Blattermann ordered him up against the car and flipped on a blue strobe light attached to the dash of a blue Chevy Blazer that is registered as an emergency vehicle to the housing authority Police Department.
A judge may have to sort through the dual criminal assault charges they filed against each other. Blattermann claims he was threatened with physical violence; DePasquale claims he was assaulted by a brush to the shoulder. Neither disputes that a loud argument and profane language occurred.
The incident raises the issue of why a civilian employee needs a car registered to the housing authority's police department, complete with lights and siren, that allows Blattermann to go through red lights and ignore other traffic laws.
"It is one of his responsibilities to respond to emergencies throughout the city," explained Maj. Cornelius Hairston, a high-ranking housing officer. "In order to get him there more quickly, his car is designated as an emergency vehicle."
Blattermann is one of three housing officials who have that privilege. Daniel P. Henson III, the housing commissioner, and Reginald Scriber, the executive director of the authority's neighborhood centers, are the others.
The Baltimore Police Department says no civilian employees are authorized to drive its emergency vehicles with lights and sirens activated.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's Lincoln Town Car -- driven by a police officer -- has blue and red strobe lights on the dashboard and grill. But his spokesman said they have never been used in 10 years. George G. Balog, the director of public works, has a flashing red light in his car and used it once while responding to a tornado that touched down in East Baltimore in 1994.
DePasquale, who owns one of two competing parking valet services in Little Italy, called the fracas an abuse of government power. Blattermann's wife, Gia, is a prominent Little Italy activist.
"Who does he think he is telling me to put my hands on the vehicle," DePasquale said, adding that the customer he was helping ran into the restaurant to escape the altercation. "He had a blue light flashing in his vehicle. What he did was totally uncalled for."
Blattermann denied turning on his strobe light and said he confronted DePasquale after the car was stopped for more than eight minutes, causing a backup of at least four other cars on Albemarle Street.
"Essentially it was a shouting match," said Blattermann, stressing that he has never activated his emergency equipment on city streets. "I've never had a situation where it had to be used," he said.
The two differ markedly on what happened, and both offer witnesses to back their side of the story. The incident occurred about 6: 40 p.m. when a woman driving a white Acura pulled up to the restaurant and double-parked in the one-lane street.
DePasquale said he was helping the customer find her purse in the trunk when Blattermann honked his horn and then got out of the Chevy S-10 emblazoned with Housing Authority of Baltimore City logos.
A police report filed by HABC Officer Milton Lynn says that DePasquale told him Blattermann allegedly screamed "you guys like blocking traffic.
"Then he took his right hand and stuck it in his [pants] as if to grab something and then walked up to the victim as if to strike his shoulders,
"At this point he again began swearing at the victim and then retreated to his vehicle and sped out of the area at a high rate of speed," the HABC police report states. HABC police said they located Blattermann about 7: 20 p.m. walking on a nearby street.
A witness, Jenifer Moor, told HABC police that she saw Blattermann "bump" into DePasquale, the report states.
Blattermann in his complaint charged that DePasquale stepped toward him and yelled, "Yeah, try it and I'll bash your face in."
Iris Maggio, who lives in Little Italy and was in a car behind Blattermann's, said the delay was aggravating. She said Blattermann "acted like a professional. The valet was really rude."
Hairston said an internal investigation is under way.
"The only time he's supposed to use the lights is when he's responding to an emergency," said Hairston, who added that Thursday's incident would not qualify.
Jim Lang, a spokesman for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, said the Chevy Blazer has appropriate state approval for emergency lights and sirens. He said the application came from the HABC Police Department.
"I don't know that the MVA can say who can and cannot drive their vehicles," Lang said.
Pub Date: 5/16/98