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Posted at 06:25 PM ET, 02/29/2012

Police: Officer who pulled over councilwoman did not have time to pace her

The Prince George’s County police officer who pulled over a county councilwoman apparently driving more than 100 miles per hour on the Capital Beltway did not give her a speeding ticket because he did not have enough time to gauge the pace of her SUV, authorities said Wednesday.

Prince George’s Assistant Police Chief Kevin Davis said the officer, a 14-year veteran, did not use a radar gun to determine the speed at which freshman Councilwoman Karen Toles (D-Suitland) was driving before he pulled her over Feb. 22. The officer estimated how fast she was going based on the speed of his own cruiser as he raced to catch up with her, Davis said.

Law enforcement sources have said the officer’s cruiser camera shows his vehicle traveling as fast 108 miles per hour and not gaining ground on the councilwoman.

The officer eventually ticketed Toles for making an unsafe lane change and gave her a warning for speeding. The ticket carries a $90 fine.

“The officer did not have enough time and space. . .to establish a pace of the car he pulled over,” Davis said Wednesday. “Preliminarily, we don’t believe that this police officer afforded anyone any special treatment.”

The now infamous incident began about noon Feb. 22, when the officer saw Toles’s county-issued Ford Edge traveling southbound on the Capital Beltway, law enforcement sources have said. The Edge veered across several lanes of traffic as it drove toward the exit for Branch Avenue, the sources said.

The officer turned on his lights and sirens and followed Toles, law enforcement sources have said. When he finally reached her vehicle — which was stopped at a red light at the intersection of Branch Avenue and Auth Road — she drove away again, apparently unaware the officer wanted her to pull over, sources have said.

Toles eventually stopped near the intersection of Branch Avenue and St. Barnabas Road, sources have said. There she vigorously identified herself as a councilwoman to the officers on scene, and the officer gave her the ticket and warning, sources have said.

The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because commanders are still reviewing the incident, and they could be disciplined for discussing details of the case.

Davis said Wednesday that the actions of all of the officers on the scene would be reviewed by commanders and the police department’s new inspector general, though preliminarily, it seems the ticket and warning were appropriate. He said that while the officer’s in-car camera shows his cruiser traveled more than 100 miles per hour during the incident, the cruiser’s equipment was not properly calibrated because the officer normally works in an administrative job.

The officer, Davis said, felt he did not have probable cause to cite Toles for speeding, saying that even with traffic tickets, officers are taught to “err on the side of caution.” He said that were the officer to have cited Toles for speeding, he would have had to defend that citation in court.

Law enforcement sources have said that on Toles’s warning, the officer wrote that the councilwoman was traveling 105 miles per hour.

Online court records show Toles, who has been active in pushing public safety legislation, has previous traffic tickets, including for unsafe lane changing and driving off the roadway while passing a vehicle. The councilwoman issued a statement saying she was late for an appointment the day she was pulled over and intends to pay the fine. She said she would not drive a county-owned vehicle until she completed a driver improvement course.

“I believe moving violations are serious matters,” Toles wrote in the statement. “I take full responsibility for my actions, and I apologize to my constituents, my County Council colleagues, and Prince George’s County.”

In Maryland and other states, drivers are assessed “points” for driving offenses. If they accrue 8 points, they can have their license suspended, and if they accrue 12, they can have their license revoked, said David Felsen, a Rockville attorney who has worked in criminal and traffic courts in Maryland for more than 20 years.

Going 105 mph in a 55 mph carries 5 points and a recommended fine of $530, Felsen said. An officer who pulls over someone going that fast also has the discretion to bump the offense up to reckless driving, which would raise the offense to 6 points, he added.

The unsafe lane change violation carries a one point penalty, in addition to the fine.

Staff writers Dan Morse and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.

By  |  06:25 PM ET, 02/29/2012

Categories:  Matt Zapotosky, Pr. George's, Politics

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