A dwindling number of Guardian Angels faced bitter cold, aching muscles and alleged "harassment" by Maryland state troopers yesterday as they neared the end of their 226-mile march on Washington to protest the police shooting death of one of their members.
"Sissy" Henson, Baltimore chapter leader of the New York-based anti-street crime group, said yesterday that 50 of his colleagues were somewhere between Aberdeen and Baltimore late yesterday, in good shape, and would spend the night at their East Eager Street headquarters before continuing on to Washington.
But state police spokesmen in Cecil County and further south said that only about 15 to 20 of the original 125 Angels who left Newark one week ago were still marching. Local rescue squad volunteers examined the marchers near Aberdeen and told many of them to give up the trek because of possible frostbite. Many apparently took the advice and dropped out as temperatures hit as low as five degrees late Saturday night.
A state police spokesman in Bel Air said the Angels left Aberdeen yesterday afternoon and were near Edgewood late yesterday.
Angels' founder Curtis Sliwa told one reporter Saturday the state police was harassing them by failing to provide an escort and by forbidding the group to carry road flares as they marched. He also objected when troopers refused to let the group use emergency flashers on their van. Police said the practice violated state law.
"I told them if we continued to walk without flares in those conditions we were bound to get hit," Sliwa was quoted as saying. "They told me that's not their problem, but we can only use flares when we are stationary."
But Lt. Wayne Saunders, of the Cecil County state police, echoed the thoughts of many other state police officials when he said that Saturday night's dangerous road conditions eliminated any possibility of sparing manpower to escort the Guardians' through his county "at two miles an hour.
"We wouldn't do it escort them . The manpower allocation was too critical. We had the cold, snow, ice and everything else to deal with," Saunders said.
Saunders also denied that his troopers had been involved in any harassment. He acknowledged a driver of a van used by the group was arrested for driving without a license.
Willie Torrez, the driver, was stopped at 11:25 p.m. Saturday by state police on Rte. 40 east of Perryville and was arrested and jailed.
"The driver was observed going 66 mph in a 55 mph zone, and when he was stopped the trooper found that he had no license," Saunders said, explaining the arrest.
Torrez was subsequently fined $250 and jailed, until Sliwa paid $223.80 to bail him out at 3 a.m. the next morning.
The march is designed to convince Attorney General William French Smith, whom the Angels hope to see on Tuesday, to appoint a special prosecutor in the controversial shooting death of Angels member Frank Melvin in New Jersey.
Smith has made no promise to meet with the group, but Sliwa has said the Angels will assemble on the steps of the Justice Department Tuesday morning.
Melvin was shot and killed Dec. 30 by a Newark police officer as he patroled a housing project. Police claim that Melvin was shot from a rooftop by an officer who believed Melvin was threatening his partner. The Angels dispute that version, claiming that Melvin was shot from ground level and was well known to police and undercover investigators in the area.