Questions over release of allegedly DUI off-duty Md. officer

The Washington Post's Matt Zapotosky talks about a Prince George's Count sheriff's deputy who was arrested for alleged drunken driving but was eventually released without charges filed.
By Matt Zapotosky and Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, March 29, 2010

A Prince George's County sheriff's deputy was arrested this month, then let go without facing criminal charges, after his personal car was found in a ditch and he failed a field sobriety test, authorities said.

The March 11 incident prompted multiple internal affairs investigations and a brief suspension of the county police sergeant who ordered the deputy released, authorities said.

Maj. Andy Ellis, a Prince George's police spokesman, said the sheriff's deputy involved was arrested and taken to the District 2 police station. A sergeant there, David Essing, decided to release him to the sheriff's internal affairs investigators without pressing charges.

"That's why Sergeant Essing . . . was suspended," Ellis said. "His actions are currently under investigation as to why the [deputy] sheriff was never charged criminally."

Essing was suspended immediately after the incident but returned to duty March 19, Ellis said. The deputy, Cpl. Donovan Gholston, remains on the job with the sheriff's office. An agency spokesman declined to comment on whether he was disciplined.

A sheriff's sergeant who responded to the scene said he repeatedly told county police to "do what you got to do" if they had probable cause to charge the deputy.

Essing declined to comment through Ellis. Gholston did not return phone messages left at his home and work numbers.

The incident is complicated by political factors. The Washington Post was notified of the incident by Sheriff's Sgt. Rafael Hylton, brother of Prince George's Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton.

Rafael Hylton is running for sheriff. He is supporting former delegate Rushern L. Baker III (D) for county executive over his boss, Sheriff Michael Jackson, in the September primary. Rafael Hylton said he has faced a "hostile environment" at work recently, in part because of his decision to support Baker.

In a report and in interviews, Hylton said he was called to the scene just before 3 a.m. because he was a ranking officer on duty at the time. He said that when he arrived, he found Gholston's personal car in a ditch in the 10800 block of Annapolis Road in Lanham, and county police officers told him that they had Gholston in custody because they suspected he had been drinking and driving.

Hylton said he tried to take a back-seat role in the incident, telling officers to do what they had to while he called the sheriff's office's internal affairs investigators. He said he was disappointed that Gholston, who was off duty at the time, was not charged criminally, and he wants to know why.

Ellis, the police spokesman, said Gholston failed a field sobriety test. He declined to be more specific because the case was being handled by the sheriff's internal affairs investigators. When Gholston was released by Prince George's police, he immediately was turned over to the internal affairs officers, Ellis said.

"I want to make that clear: He was turned over directly to the custody of the sheriff's department," Ellis said. "He certainly was not released back to the general public."

Jackson did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Staff researcher Madonna A. Lebling contributed to this report.

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