Courtroom confusion in assault case involving Pr. George’s officer

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the spokesman for State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks. His name is Ramon Korionoff. This version has been corrected.

May 24, 2011

Prince George’s County police Officer Dominique Richardson appeared in court last week, apparently prepared to testify against Steven Morales, a college student charged with assaulting the officer.

It would have been a pedestrian court case, except for this: Richardson is accused of assaulting Morales in the same October incident. In March, a county grand jury indicted the officer on charges of second-degree assault and reckless endangerment.

Richardson never took the witness stand May 16. At the request of defense attorney Terrell N. Roberts III, Morales’s trial was postponed.

At the time, the prosecutor handling Morales’s case didn’t know that his key witness faced criminal charges, and Richardson didn’t tell him, said Ramon Korionoff, spokesman for State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks. Morales’s attorney wasn’t told, either.

“It would have been very strange for the state’s attorney to indict someone for an assault and then prosecute the victim,” Roberts said. “It seems like the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing.”

Korionoff said charges against Morales will be dropped. He said the state’s attorney’s office has put procedures in place to ensure all prosecutors are notified if an officer is charged.

Richardson is on administrative duty, and his police powers have been suspended, police officials said. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The case involves an incident Oct. 30 outside a party in Beltsville. Richardson, who was moonlighting as a security guard, allegedly hit Morales and briefly placed him in a chokehold. Richardson was suspended days later as police officials investigated the allegations.

On March 5, more than four months after the incident, Richardson swore out charges against Morales. Richardson alleged that when he tried to strike an aggressive Morales in the chest, the student ducked, and “due to the defendant ducking his head, the strike hit him in the mouth area.”

As Morales fell, “he grabbed my shirt and pulled me down with him,” Richardson wrote in a statement of charges.

Capt. Misty Mints, a police spokeswoman, said Richardson did not get approval from supervisors before charging Morales.

Mints said the department was notified May 12 that Richardson had been charged. That was nearly two months after the March 22 indictment.

“We should have notified the police department earlier,” Korionoff said. Protocol calls for county prosecutors to promptly notify county police officials when an officer is indicted on a criminal charge.

It is unclear whether Richardson knew he was under indictment when he appeared in court for Morales’s case.

Vince Canales, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, which represents most rank-and-file county police officers, said officers are required to honor court subpoenas, even if they are facing criminal charges.

Accompanied by police investigators, Richardson was in court Friday for the case against him. He appeared before a judge and was released on his own recognizance.

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