John Kelly
John Kelly
Columnist

Opening a can of controversy on the D.C.-Pr. George’s border

John Kelly/THE WASHINGTON POST - Lance Hagood of Capitol Heights. Hagood was ticketed in September by the Prince George's County police for drinking a beer while sitting on this wall on Southern Avenue. He says the actual District-Maryland boundary is a few feet behind him, meaning the Prince George's officers did not have jurisdiction there.

On the day he is summoned to appear in court for drinking in public, Lance Hagood has come prepared. In his hand is an aerial photograph he found online. There are photos he’s taken with his daughter’s camera. There are printouts from various Web sites, including one that, somewhat incongruously, mentions the Daughters of the American Revolution.

And there is my column from Sept. 16, a column headlined “Clarifying the D.C.-Md. border.”

Clarifying the border is exactly what Hagood — pronounced “Haygood” (“We lost the Y a long time ago,” he tells me) — is hoping to do. He is willing to take his border dispute to the highest court in the land, though he will have to start in Room 264 B at the District Court of Maryland in Upper Marlboro.

Hagood does not deny that between 11 a.m. and noon on a day in early September, he was sitting on a wall, drinking a beer with a friend in front of a house on Southern Avenue.

I point out that as he lives three blocks away, in Capitol Heights, he could have just quaffed his beer there.

“I was tired, and I wanted it when I wanted it,” he says.

Anyway, he was sitting there, drinking a beer, when he came to the attention of the Prince George’s County police.

“They pulled up on us like we were robbing a bank,” Hagood says. “Three police cars and five policemen.”

One of the officers said, “I saw you with that open container.”

Says Hagood: “They talked trash. They give us a bunch of rhetoric. Then they commenced to writing tickets.”

Hagood and his friend, Tyrone Brown, each received a $100 citation.

“My beer wasn’t even open,” Brown tells me.

Hagood says he wouldn’t have had a problem with D.C. cops citing him, but Prince George’s cops were out of their jurisdiction. The house is in Capitol Heights — in Maryland — but the wall is in the District.

At least that’s what Hagood says. His argument: There are boundary stones in the front yards of houses on the south side of Southern Avenue, meaning that anything north of them — including the wall — is District land.

Hagood is 63, with an impressive salt-and-pepper Fu Manchu moustache. He’s a self-employed handyman who does work for people in his neighborhood.

“If I can’t fix it, it’s time to throw it away,” he tells me.

One of the reasons he’s so upset is because of all the people who saw the incident.

“I lost clients,” he says.

This is going through his mind Monday afternoon as he smokes a quick cigarette before going into the courthouse. He has opted not to pay the fine. He will show photos of the boundary stones, which were placed in the 1790s by a surveying team to mark the border between Maryland and the new capital. He will show a printout that mentions the stones are maintained by the DAR’s Washington chapter.

“Not the DAR of Maryland,” he points out.

In the courtroom, a clerk announces that hats must be off, shirts must be tucked in and trousers must be pulled up.

There are grumbles, and eye rolls among the two dozen or so citizens awaiting adjudication.

“Not my rule,” the clerk says. “I’m just here to tell you.”

It’s the rule of the judge, Lawrence V. Hill, who does not trifle.

Men in polo shirts, rugby shirts and big, loose T-shirts stand up and start tucking in tails and cinching their belts tight. They are suddenly transformed into Urkel.

Names are called, and the accused line up. When it’s Hagood’s turn, Hill says: “The state is not going to prosecute you. Your case is over. You’re free to go.”

Apparently, the police officer who wrote the ticket has not shown up. Hagood is not happy. He’s been denied his chance to set precedent.

“All this for nothing,” he says.

“Me, too,” says his friend Tyrone Brown, who is mildly annoyed at the way his name was spelled on his court summons: BROWN, TYNOR.

“This happens to hundreds of people, and nothing’s ever said about it,” Hagood says of his citation. “They could be rounding up people who are really committing crimes. . . . We wasn’t robbing anybody. We wasn’t stealing. We wasn’t stumbling down the street drunk.”

Hagood vows to fight on. “I want to go civil,” he says.

The other side of the border

I spoke with Officer Edward Martin in the county police’s media relations office, and he explained that police can cite a person in the District if the offense was observed in Prince George’s.

“If the officer did see him walk to the liquor store, open a beer, then walk to D.C., they do have the right to investigate,” Martin said.

Public drinking, he said, is a nuisance crime that’s being targeted as part of the county’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative.

Although the county-D.C. border can be a “gray line” along Southern Avenue, “officers are just out there being proactive,” he said.

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

 
Read what others are saying