Montgomery Police Probe

County Agrees to Changes

Montgomery County will avoid federal actions against its police department after agreeing to improve the way it tracks complaints against officers and the race of people pulled over in traffic stops.

The accord follows almost three months of confidential negotiations between county officials and the U.S. Department of Justice. Federal officials reviewed more than 600 internal affairs cases and 150 complaints forwarded by the county's NAACP chapter.

The review found that, from 1997 to 1998, county police issued 21 percent of traffic tickets to African Americans. Blacks account for 12 percent of the county's population. But the review did not find evidence that any officer used excessive force or violated civil rights laws.

The agreement "is a step in the right direction and is long overdue," said Jorge Ribas, president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation. "The whole purpose of this wasn't to look for a scapegoat but to clear the air."

Jordan Talks to Wizards

Sticking Point Is Equity

Michael Jordan, possibly the most popular basketball player of all time, has reached an agreement in principle with Washington Wizards majority owner Abe Pollin that would give Jordan control of the team's basketball operations. Talk about hoop dreams.

It's not a done deal, but the possibilities were enough to fire up both team members and fans of the beleaguered franchise.

"I think automatically people will look at the organization differently," said point guard Rod Strickland. "Mike is respect. Everybody respects Mike and respects his knowledge of the game. . . . He's going to turn things around."

The idea is that the former Chicago Bulls star would have authority over trading, signing and drafting players, as well as the hiring and firing of coaches and other front-office personnel. And that he could assume an ownership role when Pollin, who runs the day-to-day operation of the franchise, decides to sell his stake.

Therein lies the rub. Executives Ted Leonsis and Jon Ledecky own 44 percent of the team, and they have the right of first refusal when Pollin decides he's had enough.

So far, sources say, talks between Jordan and the minority ownership group have failed to produce a compromise about how much equity Jordan would get in the team, and at what price. The talks continue.

Across the Region

MLK Holiday, Tax Cuts

* In a surprise move, Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III proposed a holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. that would be separate from the current day honoring him, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. "The combination of these individuals on a single day creates confusion," the Republican said, echoing the sentiments of many African Americans. Black lawmakers say they are preparing a bill to create a holiday around a weekend near King's Jan. 15 birth date.

* A Montgomery County woman has been granted custody of Cornilous Pixley, a 3-year-old whose biological mother killed her infant daughter about eight years ago. But lawyers say LaTrena Pixley, 26, of the District, still could seek custody of Cornilous in the future. Police officer Laura Blankman, who must let Pixley spend one day a week with the boy, has cared for him since 1996.

* If you own a home in Maryland, things are looking up. Thanks to a new law designed to cut real estate closing costs, more than 900,000 people are to get checks averaging $680 from their mortgage companies in the second half of the year. Home buyers actually will be getting back half the year's worth of property tax they forked over to an escrow account when they bought their homes.

* A year and a half after announcing that she has Lou Gehrig's disease, Betty Ann Krahnke said she will step down from the Montgomery County Council in April. Krahnke, 57, received a standing ovation after delivering a speech via computerized voice synthesizer. "Betty Ann could have wrestled with this illness in private," said council President Michael L. Subin (D-At Large). "Rather than do that, she took on the much more difficult path of a public battle."

* Roll it, or book him? Jonathan Taylor Spielberg, who audited classes at a Fairfax City Catholic high school, was charged with forgery after he tried to pass himself off as Steven Spielberg's nephew. He presented letters with the DreamWorks SKG letterhead, spoke of "Uncle Steven" and parked his BMW in the spot reserved for the principal. Police said Spielberg the Younger, who used to be known as Anoushirvan Fahkran, legally changed his name.

* A former prison psychologist could face up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to helping her lover, an armed robber, escape from a state prison in Jessup in May. Police then dropped three related charges against Elizabeth Feil, 42, of Annapolis.

* In what's being called the toughest move of its kind in Maryland, Charles County's new slow-growth board slashed the number of houses that may be built near crowded schools. The limit may be eased later this year, after the state agrees to help fund a new high school. But for now, said a home-building official, "it's going to have a devastating effect."

* In a crushing defeat for one of Maryland's top lobbyists, the state's highest court disbarred Bruce C. Bereano for defrauding four of his lobbying clients in 1994. Bereano, the first Maryland lobbyist to earn $1 million a year, viewed being a lawyer as central to his self-image. But he's still free to lobby for clients, who have included cigarette makers, gambling concerns and others.

--Erica Johnston

AOL Announces Merger With Time Warner In Record $183 Billion Media Deal

Dulles-based America Online announced that it will buy mammoth Time Warner Inc., for $183 billion. That includes CNN, WTBS, HBO, probably a couple of other acronyms, a movie studio and magazines such as Time, Sports Illustrated and People, among dozens of other properties.

In addition to being a drop-dead-serious chunk of change, the merger--the biggest ever--served notice to anyone who may have been snoozing through the millennium: The new guys mean business, and the AOL-Time Warner marriage is probably just the beginning.

And many area technology mavens say that's good news for the Washington area. All 12,100 current AOL employees will be able to sell all their stock, with a current market value of about $12.4 billion, one year after the deal closes. And that sum could multiply as new companies are spawned by newly liberated techies.

"I ought to open my Ferrari dealership now," said Doug Humphrey, who founded one tech company and leads another.

Scaffolding Could Have Second Life in Twin Cities

Who says there are no second acts in life?

Thirty-seven miles of shiny aluminum scaffolding and an acre's worth of gray-blue decorative netting enjoyed an 11-month fling with fame, covering the Washington Monument during its repairs and even spawning an Internet campaign to "Keep It Covered."

But the glory days may not be over for the metal-and-mesh contraption. Minneapolis-based Target Stores wants to rebuild it--sans an actual monument, mind you--in a park in the Minnesota metropolis. And it might pay more than $1 million for the privilege.

"We feel really strongly that the scaffolding is a piece of art," said Patty Morris, a spokeswoman for Target. "It's really a part of American history."

Michael Graves, the acclaimed architect who designed the scaffolding, sounds as if he has to agree. "Occasionally, you hit something big in architecture, and this time we did," he said.

"The Eiffel Tower was a temporary structure," said Graves, who in his spare time knocks out more mundane designs, of the tea-kettle and patio-furniture variety. "My scaffolding is sort of like the Eiffel Tower now."

CAPTION: Gerald Levin, left, chief executive of Time Warner, talks to America Online Chairman Steve Case near the AOL mission statement at AOL's headquarters.

CAPTION: AOL President Robert Pittman, left, and Time Warner President Richard Parsons are on the integration committee charged with restructuring the merged entity.

CAPTION: Michael Graves, here with a model, designed the work-of-art scaffolding.