By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 4, 2008
About 100 people gathered on a ball field in the tiny town of Berwyn Heights last night to rally in support of the town's mayor and in memory of his two dogs who were shot and killed by law enforcement officers during a drug raid last week.
Residents, many accompanied by their own dogs on leashes, recalled 7-year-old Payton and 4-year-old Chase, black Labrador retrievers, as dogs who would stop and greet them on walks.
Members of a Prince George's County Sheriff's Office SWAT team shot the dogs Tuesday while bursting into the home of Mayor Cheye Calvo. The raid, conducted jointly with county police narcotics officers, took place after officers saw Calvo bring a package containing more than 30 pounds of marijuana from his front porch into his house. They had been tracking the package since police dogs sniffed out the presence of drugs at a shipping facility in Arizona.
The package was addressed to Trinity Tomsic, Calvo's wife. But law enforcement sources said last week that they are now investigating the possibility that the mayor and his wife were unwitting recipients and that a deliveryman might have intended to intercept the package as part of a drug smuggling scheme.
The package landed on Calvo's doorstep after police posing as deliverymen brought it to the door and Calvo's mother-in-law asked that it be left on the porch. Police recovered the unopened package from the home Tuesday night but made no arrests. Calvo has said he was interrogated for hours while handcuffed and surrounded by the bloody bodies of his dogs.
A spokesman for the sheriff's office has said that the department regretted the shooting of the dogs but that deputies felt threatened by them. The spokesman did not return a call for comment yesterday.
At the rally at the Berwyn Heights Sports Park, those in the 3,000-resident town gathered to express confidence that Calvo is innocent.
They wrote messages to the mayor's family on a banner, which they intended to give to Calvo to hang on his fence. They said they believed their 37-year-old mayor when he said he had no knowledge of the illegal drugs.
"The rest of us might have had misspent youths, but Cheye is one of those fellows who has been on the straight and narrow his whole life," Chris Brittan-Powell, one of the rally organizers, said before the event. "It's just bizarre."
Berwyn Heights police chief Patrick Murphy said he regretted that the sheriff's office and county police raided Calvo's home without Murphy's knowledge. Murphy has been vocal about his anger that his eight-person force was not informed of the raid in advance.
"I never imagined, when I set out to protect people from the crooks and the criminals, that I would have to protect them from my fellow police officers," Murphy told the crowd.
Brittan-Powell said that the rally's aim was not to condemn police but to show Calvo that residents were on his side and did not believe he deserved to have his home raided. Brittan-Powell said the group was taking donations to buy two trees to be planted at Calvo's home in memory of the dogs as well as to fund repairs to Calvo's front door.
Calvo, 37, has been a fixture in Prince George's since serving on a regional group for teen leaders while in high school, where he worked on an anti-drug initiative. He was an aide to Republican County Council member Audrey E. Scott in the mid-1990s and has been mayor since 2004. He also works for the SEED Foundation, a well-known national nonprofit group that runs urban public boarding schools.
"Injustice in this county, in this country, in this world happens every day," Calvo told the crowd. "But people who experience it most often don't have the support, don't have the community, don't have the resources that we do."
Brittan-Powell stressed that the town event was intended to be apolitical, noting that residents purposely held their event separately from a rally earlier yesterday by the University of Maryland chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
Thirty-six chapter members attended that event, said organizer Irina Alexander, 19, a rising sophomore who also attended the later rally. The group called the dogs victims of a misguided war on drugs.