Two Prince George's County police officers and a former Takoma Park officer were indicted yesterday, accused of allowing a police dog to attack two burglary suspects who posed no threat, then filing false reports to cover up the 1995 incident.
The federal indictment arose from a Justice Department investigation into alleged misconduct and brutality in the Prince George's Police Department's canine unit. It comes as the police force is facing considerable criticism - and the possibility of a broader civil rights probe - for a string of police shootings.
County officers shot 12 people in the past 13 months, fatally wounding five. Earlier this month, an undercover detective killed a Howard University student after following him for 20 miles into Fairfax, Va. Officer Carlton B. Jones shot Prince Jones, 25, after he rammed his Jeep Cherokee into Jones' unmarked police car, according to police.
County Executive Wayne K. Curry, who has appointed a task force to examine police and community relations, has scheduled a news conference for this morning. He is expected to announce a top-level reorganization of the department that will likely include the hiring of an outside deputy chief.
The expected changes and the indictment were welcomed by critics who say the Police Department needs dramatic reform.
"This is one more step in a long journey," said Edythe Fleming Hall, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a member of a task force reviewing police behavior.
The indictments announced by Maryland U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia and Assistant Attorney General Bill Lann Lee, who heads the Justice Department's civil rights division, were unrelated to the police shootings. But Lee said his office is considering broadening its probe of county police.
"The message of this indictment is that willful violations of the civil rights law will not be tolerated," Lee said.
The charges, filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, accuse Officer Stephanie Mohr and Sgt. Anthony Delozier of conspiracy and violating the civil rights of two homeless men who were arrested by Takoma Park police on burglary charges Sept. 21, 1995. Court records show that Takoma Park police called in the county canine unit to help with the arrests.
At the scene, Delozier asked if the county police dog "could take a bite" out of the suspects though they were in custody and posed no threat, according to the indictment.
Brian Rich, a former Takoma Park police officer who now is an FBI special agent in New Jersey, was accused of filing false reports. The indictment charges that Rich witnessed the attack, but instead of reporting the police behavior pursued unsupported burglary charges against the men.
Battaglia declined to say how investigators found out about the alleged incident almost five years after it happened.
Yesterday's action followed another indictment of a county police officer.
On Sept. 8, Officer Brian C. Catlett was indicted by a county grand jury on charges of voluntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the shooting death of an unarmed Lanham man.
Sun staff writer Greg Garland contributed to this article.