Pr. George's police chief's cars vandalized at HQ; backers suspect retaliation

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 5, 2010; 6:45 PM

Two unmarked sedans used by Prince George's County Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton were shot with a pellet gun in recent weeks in the parking lot at police headquarters.

Supporters of the chief suspect the vandalism is retaliation for Hylton's efforts to punish officers for misconduct.

The cars - a black Crown Victoria and a gray Impala - were damaged in October while they were parked in the chief's marked spots at headquarters in Palmer Park, said Maj. Andrew Ellis, commander of the department's public information office.

The Crown Victoria was shot in the rear window and in a rear quarter panel, Ellis said. A pellet was shot into a passenger door of the Impala, he said.

No other vehicles were damaged, Ellis said. The parking lot is for police officers and civilian employees, but it is not secured, and no surveillance cameras are trained on the chief's parking spots, near the entrance, Ellis said.

About the same time the cars were vandalized, the air was let out of the tires of the marked cruiser assigned to a corporal who works in the chief's office, Ellis said. The corporal discovered the deflation when she was driving on the Capital Beltway and struggled to control the vehicle, according to a police source.

The corporal - whom Ellis declined to identify - managed to avoid an accident and get off the road. An inspection determined that the tire pressure for each of the tires was about half of normal level, according to the police source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Ellis said Hylton declined to answer questions about why his vehicles might have been targeted and whether he thought the deflation of his aide's tires was related.

Monday may Hylton's last day as chief. Rushern L. Baker III (D), who will be sworn in that day as county executive, is expected to will replace Hylton with an interim chief and conduct a search for a permanent chief.

Hylton declined to comment on possible motivations for the vandalism but alluded to the pellet shooting Nov. 15, during a gathering of high-ranking commanders.

"He said: 'I'm not going to be intimidated. I'm not going to resign,' " the police source said. Hylton made the remarks to about 20 commanders after a news conference in which he decried the alleged actions of three county police officers who were arrested by the FBI that day as part of a broad corruption probe. Two of the officers are charged with smuggling untaxed cigarettes and alcohol, and the third is accused of cocaine trafficking.

Two people who represent organizations that support retaining Hylton as chief said they suspect the vandalism is retaliation for what they said are Hylton's efforts to hold officers accountable for misconduct.

In an interview last month, Hylton said 46 county officers are suspended or on administrative duty. The number represents 3 percent of the 1,500-member force. Hylton said those figures are higher than in previous years because he is trying to hold officers accountable for misconduct.

Hakim Muhammad, a member of the Coalition of Prince George's County Leaders and Organizations, said the vandalism is "frightening. My gut feeling is someone is trying to send him a message."

Luis Rodriguez, executive director of the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association, said he suspects that a disgruntled officer or officers are responsible for the vandalism. Rodriguez said Hylton, who is Hispanic, has also fired Hispanic officers for misconduct. "He's doing the right thing," Rodriguez said.

Vince Canales, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, which represents most county officers, dismissed the theory that an officer vandalized the vehicles as "speculation."

"I think it's such a stretch," Canales said. "I know of no officers who have been accused of anything [in connection with the vandalism]."

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