The trial of a county police officer on criminal charges stemming from alleged altercations with his wife last year began yesterday in Howard's Circuit Court.
Cpl. Michael K. Williams, charged with assault and obstruction of justice, is accused of hitting and biting his wife in a fight Aug. 26 of last year and pointing a gun at her Oct. 20.
His estranged wife, Elizabeth Williams, was the main witness yesterday and gave her longest public comment about the incidents. She told the jury under Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney that an argument over a nickname led to the August fight, and her refusal to sign a letter asking lawyers to drop charges against her husband contributed to the second incident.
While the woman had earlier sent her own letter asking the state's attorney's office to drop charges, she never told her husband about it, she said.
The resulting case has led to a feud between the Carroll County state's attorney's office, which was specially assigned the case, and the Howard County Police Department.
Elizabeth Williams and prosecutors have accused the Police Department of being biased in favor of the officer in its investigation, while police officials have called such statements "unprofessional" and "unethical."
The couple had been married less than two months when the first incident allegedly took place. She testified that the fighting began in the morning when her husband called her "Liz" and she insisted on being called "Elizabeth."
After a brief argument, the officer left the couple's Columbia apartment to go to church and returned several hours later, when, the wife testified, he threw a pot of soup in the kitchen. She said he started to clean up the mess with a towel, and she went to get a broom. But he then approached her and grabbed the broom, she said, and "I was scared that he would hit me."
The pair scuffled over the broom and Michael Williams bit her on the upper right arm, punched her and threw her on a table twice, she said. He also choked her son, then 14, she testified.
Under cross-examination by defense lawyer Clarke F. Ahlers she said that she bit her husband during the scuffle.
She said that she called the county police and that officers came to the condo. But no charge was lodged against her husband until she went to court and sought them Sept. 1.
She and her four children then moved out, but later returned, she said, because Michael Williams promised to seek counseling.
In a letter dated Sept. 17, Elizabeth Williams asked the state to drop charges, but never told her husband about the letter. Meanwhile, he was pressuring her to sign a similar letter he had written, she said.
"He said that his reputation went down the drain ... and that people [at work] looked down on him and wouldn't respect him," she testified.
She refused to sign the letter, and the pair got into an argument Oct. 20 in which he pointed a gun at her, but did not pull the trigger, Elizabeth Williams testified.
"He said he would not have anything ruin his life," she said.
She moved out of the house again soon after and filed charges Nov. 13 stemming from the October confrontation. The pair have also since filed for divorce.
Ahlers asked Elizabeth Williams why she did not file charges immediately after the Oct. 20 incident, or report it to police.
She replied that it "was not in my mind" to immediately file charges, and added that she did not trust Howard County police officials because they were "good friends" of her husband.
Michael Williams, a 16-year veteran of the department, has been on administrative duty pending the outcome of the trial, which is expected to continue today.