Courthouse Cleaning Employee Says Judge Is Suspected of Deflating Her Tire

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Charles County judge is under investigation for allegedly letting the air out of the tire of a car belonging to a woman who works as a part-time cleaning worker at the courthouse, according to the car owner and sources familiar with the incident.

Two county sheriff's jail officers said they saw Circuit Court Judge Robert C. Nalley letting the air out of the back right tire of a 2004 Toyota Corolla parked just outside the La Plata courthouse about 3:45 p.m. Monday, according to the two sources.

One of the officers used his cellphone camera to photograph or videotape the judge, said the sources, who asked not to be identified because the probe is ongoing.

Nalley declined to comment through an assistant Tuesday. According to the Charles County Circuit Court's Web site, Nalley was appointed to the bench in 1980. Before becoming a judge, he served as county state's attorney for five years.

Cassin B. Gittings, chief of the La Plata police, said Tuesday that his department is investigating the tire deflation, but he declined to identify any suspects because no one has been charged. Gittings said officers responded to a report of a car being tampered with.

Gittings said he expected the detective on the case to decide by no later than Wednesday whether to file charges.

"We're interviewing witnesses and reviewing evidence," Gittings said. "The evidence will take the case where it goes."

Jean Washington, the owner of the Toyota, said in an interview that she had just entered the courthouse for her work shift when a sheriff's deputy alerted her, "Jean, you need to move your car. Judge Nalley's going to let the air out of it."

Washington, 51, said she rushed out and moved her car to a different parking lot, farther from the courthouse. When she pulled into another parking spot, another sheriff's deputy told her that her rear passenger tire was flat, Washington said.

"I was just about in tears," Washington said. "I wasn't so upset at the fact my tire was flat -- it was who did it. I'm still in shock."

The first parking spot has no markers indicating that it or any spot is reserved for Nalley or anyone else, Washington said. She said a sign near those spots says, "Restricted Parking Only." Washington said no one had ever told her she could not park in that area, which is a short walk from the courthouse.

Washington said she prefers to park there because her work shift ends at night, and other parking areas would require her to walk a longer distance to her car.

Washington, a Waldorf resident, said she has exchanged greetings with Nalley in and around the courthouse but does not know him. She said she and Nalley have never had a conversation.

Washington said that after she learned that her tire was flat, she told her supervisor, who advised her to report the incident to police.

La Plata police arrived and interviewed her, Washington said. One of the officers obtained a pump and inflated her flat tire, Washington said.

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