Three Prince George's County police officers have been suspended with pay as authorities continue investigating how a marked police cruiser wound up damaged and abandoned in woods near Upper Marlboro last week, the department said yesterday.
Two law enforcement sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing, said the cruiser was assigned to Officer Herbert Pettiford, one of the officers who was suspended. The two other suspended officers were identified by the sources as Derrick Spence and Jeremy Bull.
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None of the officers could be located for comment yesterday. Percy Alston, president of the police union, Lodge 89 of the Fraternal Order of Police, declined to comment on the investigation or the officers' employment status.
The cruiser, found abandoned near the 6200 block of South Osborne Road shortly before 7 a.m. Thursday, initially was thought to have been stolen, the sources said. But in a statement released yesterday, the department said new, unspecified information surfaced over the weekend.
Initially, the sources said, Pettiford was summoned to South Osborne Road on Thursday after the cruiser was found. He told authorities that the evening before, he had gone to a District nightclub in Spence's personal vehicle, the source said.
The sources said Pettiford told authorities that after drinking at the club, he got home about 2:30 a.m., but he did not notice whether his take-home cruiser was parked outside his house. The sources said Spence and Bull told authorities that they were at the club with Pettiford and that afterward they went to Pettiford's house and also did not notice whether the cruiser was outside.
The sources said the three officers said they did not drive on South Osborne Road, a winding street often used to cut between Pennsylvania Avenue and Route 301, two major arteries in Prince George's.
Shortly before 7 a.m. Thursday, a county resident called police about the abandoned cruiser. Officers answering the call also found an abandoned Chevrolet Nova nearby that had extensive damage to the driver's side, the sources said.
Police located the Nova's owner, who told police over the weekend that her boyfriend had been driving the car Thursday morning. He told police he was driving home from work when he was struck by a white vehicle, which is the color of police cruisers in Prince George's.
The Nova spun around and came to rest on the shoulder of the road. Meanwhile, he said, the white vehicle drove away.
A moment later, the driver told police, two other vehicles stopped. The drivers of those vehicles were police officers, and they asked the man whether he was injured.
According to the sources, one of the officers told the man that the white car was a police cruiser and that it probably had been stolen. Also, the sources said, one of the officers gave the man a cell phone and told him to call someone to pick him up.
After his girlfriend arrived, the sources said, the two were told to drive away in the opposite direction from where the white car had gone.
In a statement yesterday, Police Chief Melvin C. High promised a "thorough, complete" investigation of the incident.