Montgomery police officer charged with second-degree assault

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Montgomery County police officer has been charged with assault for hitting a suspect on the head with a baton after the suspect had fled, officials said Friday.

The officer, George Saoutis, was indicted on a single count of second-degree assault, a misdemeanor. He has been on the force for three years and previously served as an officer with the Metro Transit Police. His attorney said he will plead not guilty.

The case stems from a March 3 incident in which police were called to a building at Evans Drive and Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring for a report of graffiti vandalism, known as "tagging."

The officers saw seven to 10 people running from the scene. Saoutis chased a 16-year-old, who ignored orders to stop, according to police. Saoutis eventually took him into custody, and the teen was charged with vandalism.

Medics treated the suspect for a 1-inch laceration on the back of his head.

When Saoutis reported the incident, his story had discrepancies in how the injury occurred, according to police.

"We don't have these kind of issues in our department typically," Chief J. Thomas Manger said Friday. "The public can have confidence in the result of our investigation."

The department referred its investigation to county prosecutors. No trial date has been set.

"We look forward to his day in court," said Saoutis's attorney, James Shalleck.

Saoutis remains on administrative leave, and his police duties are suspended pending his trial, police said. The case marked the second time in five months that Saoutis was placed on leave.

On March 30, he and another officer tried to stop a silver Honda linked to a shoplifting at the Target store in Westfield Wheaton shopping center, police said at the time. The officers tried to stop the car, and Saoutis fired his service weapon. Police looked into why he did so and whether the Honda driver assaulted Saoutis by trying to hit him with the car.

At the time, police said there was no indication the gunshots injured anyone. A police spokeswoman said Friday that the matter was still under investigation. Shalleck declined to comment on the shooting.

In 2004, while working for the Transit Police, Saoutis apprehended a woman as she was walking into the bus area at the Wheaton Metro station.

Sakinah Aaron was talking loudly on her cellphone. Saoutis told Aaron, who was five months pregnant, to lower her voice, according to a Washington Post account of the incident. She told the officer he had no right to tell her how to speak into her cellphone.

Their dispute quickly escalated, and Saoutis handcuffed the 23-year-old woman, called for backup and took her to a cell. She was charged with two misdemeanors: disorderly manner that disturbed the public peace and resisting arrest.

At the time, Transit Police and some Metro officials said Saoutis was protecting the peace by removing a woman who had overstepped the boundaries of civil behavior. Aaron acknowledged that she was loud on the phone but said she lobbed a profanity only after Saoutis grabbed her.

"I'm walking down the stairs and the transit cop said, 'You have to lower your voice, ma'am.' I said, 'You can't tell me how loud I can talk.' He said, 'I can arrest you,' and he grabbed my arm. I said: 'What are you doing? I'm pregnant!' " Aaron said at the time.

Aaron sued Saoutis and Metro after the incident. She lost and was ordered to pay their costs in the action, according to court records.

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