Roberto Hylton ousted as Prince George's County police chief

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 6, 2010; 6:24 PM

As one of his first official acts Monday, the new Prince George's County executive ousted Roberto L. Hylton as police chief and handed over the reins of the roughly 1,500-member department to an interim leader.

County Executive Rushern L. Baker III announced the decision Monday afternoon, saying that and other changes were meant to make government more effective. He said Hylton will be replaced temporarily by Mark Magaw, a former narcotics commander who most recently had been serving as one of four deputy chiefs under Hylton.

Hylton is one of many department heads Baker has replaced, and his leaving is no surprise. Hylton was told informally Wednesday he would be replaced. His last months on the job were marked by several problems - including the arrests of three officers as part of a broad federal probe into corruption in the county and the revelation of a cheating scandal at the police department's academy.

Through his lawyer, Gabriel J. Christian, Hylton declined to comment for this story. Christian said he was negotiating with county officials to make sure the transition is "done in a way that's dignified." Even in the minutes before his ouster became official, Hylton denied that he had been told anything. A group of civic leaders has been critical of his being replaced.

In an interview last month, Hylton said he hoped he would be remembered as "a person of integrity and accountability" who reduced crime and mended damaged relations between the police department and Prince George's residents.

"My sole goal was to make sure that we returned this agency to being a professional agency, an agency that's credible and has integrity," Hylton said. "And I think I've managed to do all that."

Hylton, a Panama native who has served in the Prince George's department for more than 29 years, previously had said he is still exploring where to go next.

Hylton took over as interim chief in September 2008 and was appointed to the position permanently months later by then-county executive Jack B. Johnson. He was initially popular with the department's rank and file because he was appointed from within. He also was popular with county residents, in large part because he bolstered the number of community police officers working the neighborhoods.

Beneath the surface, though, problems simmered. Crime dropped to historically low levels, but commanders complained privately that Hylton would berate them during weekly staff meetings. Several high-ranking commanders left the department - including the department's first female deputy chief - and some blamed Hylton.

Corruption also plagued the police department during Hylton's tenure. The FBI launched a probe into whether a group of Prince George's and other officers took money to protect a high-stakes gambling ring frequented by drug dealers. A video emerged showing three county police officers beating an unarmed University of Maryland student after a basketball game. And an officer was indicted for selling guns that he had seized from criminals to people on the street.

Hylton had said he was out front on the problems in the department. Even when documents recently emerged showing that 46 Prince George's officers were either suspended or assigned to administrative duties for misconduct or violations, Hylton said he thought the figures showed he had been more aggressive on discipline.

Crime also has continued to drop this year, at least based on calls for service. Compared with the same period last year, violent crime is down 4.8 percent, and property crime is down 4 percent, said Maj. Andrew Ellis, the public affairs commander in Prince George's. Those statistics are as of Sunday, he said.

Magaw, Hylton's temporary replacement, has kept a low profile in his roughly 27 years in the department. He was, however, commander of the police department's narcotics enforcement division when a sheriff's office SWAT team, serving a county police warrant, broke down the door of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo's home in 2008 and shot and killed his two dogs. In the wake of that incident, Magaw incorrectly told public affairs officers that authorities had obtained a "no-knock" warrant, when they hadn't.

Magaw declined to comment through the police department's public affairs commander. In a written statement, Magaw said he was "honored and humbled" by his appointment.

"This is an outstanding police department with dedicated employees who serve our residents every day," he said. "I will do everything I can to continue to move our agency forward."

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