Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist and Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.) took issue yesterday with a county police spokesman who said that if he stopped either Gilchrist or Barnes on suspicion of drunk driving, as occurred last month with Rep. Louis B. Stokes (D-Ohio), he would take them home and spare them the embarrassment of charging them.
In a letter to Montgomery Police Chief Bernard D. Crooke, Gilchrist made it plain that under similar circumstances he would want to be arrested and charged.
A spokesman for Barnes said the congressman felt the same way. "There is no one in this county who is above the law," Gilchrist wrote, "most particularly our elected officials."
The police spokesman, Sgt. Harry Geehreng, was quoted in Thursday's Montgomery County Sentinel newspaper responding to a question about the March 25 confrontation between county police and Stokes, who was stopped on suspicion of drunk driving, let go, then formally charged Wednesday.
Geehreng told the Sentinel that if he stopped Barnes or Gilchrist for a similar offense, "I'd let them go. I'd park his car and take him home. They're prominent people and they don't need the embarrassment."
"If this quotation is accurate," Gilchrist wrote, "it is a misconception of public responsibility."
Geehreng said yesterday that he regretted that the remarks were printed, saying that he thought he was speaking off-the-record during an informal discussion with the Sentinel reporter.
"I agree with the county executive," Geehreng said. "Nobody is above the law."
Stokes, who has denied the charges, has maintained that the police and the media would have handled the incident differently if he were white.
His office had no comment on Geehreng's remarks. Stokes is black, Barnes and Gilchrist are white.