Almost all Prince George's County police officers returned to work yesterday afternoon, eight hours after they had begun a walkout triggered by the verdict in the Terrence Johnson murder trial.
Police officials said that 95 percent of the work force reported for the 4 p.m. shift after the police union won a series of concessions from county officials, including a promise of amnesty for the men who walked out.
"We made our point," police union president Laney Hester said after meeting yesterday with Police Chief John Rhoads and County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan. "We'll never forget this, but maybe we can return to something colse to normal now."
Earlier in the day, the county's five police stations had been abnormally quiet and empty. Only eight of 150 officers scheduled to report for work at 8 a.m. were present at roll call.
As the Walkout began, supervisors assigned themselves to routine chores and drafted civilians to handle dispatching and communications tasks in place of the absent uniformed officers.
On the streets, the men on the overnight shift were kept on for an extra hour or two to give more than 100 Maryland State Police troopers time to take over the patrol duties ordinarily handled by county police.
No unusual increase in crime was reported in Price George's during the eight-hour walkout. The protest ended after a three-hour mass meeting during which county leaders praised the police, criticized the media's coverage of the force and asked the men to return to work, saying they owned it to the community.
Much of yesterday's meeting was planned and orchestrated during a late night-early morning meeting at Rhoads' office during which Rhoads, Hogan and Hester hammered out an agreement on several longstanding demands of the rank-and-file officers.
Angry and frustrated police officers decided Saturday not to show up for work yesterday and today after a jury acquitted Johnson, 16-who was accused of killing two officers last June 26-on murder charges while convicting hime of one count of manslaughter and a gun charge.
Johnson was found not guilty by reason of insanity in connection with the murder of officer James Brian Swart. Seconds before shooting Swart, Johnson had shot officer Albert M. Claggett IV in a small fingerprinting room at the Hyattsville police station.
Officers present at the station at the time said that Claggett took Johnson into the fingerprinting room "to calm him down" after the youth swung a chair at Swart.
Johnson, however, testified that Claggett started beating him after the two were alone in the small room, and said that he had acted in self-defense when he snatched the officer's gun and killed him.
The case, in which a black youth killed two white officers while in custody at the police station, crystallized existing tensions between the largely white police force and the growing number black county residents.
The police officers stayed away from work yesterday morning in spite of last-minute pleas by County Executive Hogan and police chief Rhoads. Rhoads, after "guaranteeing" that the men would be on the job Sunday, reversed himself yesterday and said he supported the men's actions.
"What has happened was a result of severe frustration on a number of issues," Rhoads said. "I think this, not the street, was the right place for them to vent their frustrations.
"I'm nto saying I approve of police officers walking off their jobs. But I don't look at this as a walkoff; I look at it as taking a few hours to vent their frustrations. This was a proper thing to do."
While the police were gathering at their union headquarters-Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 80-some community leaders were criticizing the police for staging the walkout.
"Anytime there is no loss of life it is a tragic thing," said Henry Arrington, mayor of Seat Pleasant. "But we're paying the police to protect us. So (the walkout) in itself is an act of irresponsibility. It isn't going to change the jury's decision and it's an affront to the black community."
It was only after Hogan and Rhoads agreed to a number of concessions that the 810 rank-and-file members of the department agreed to return to work.
After Hogan and Rhoads realized that they were not going to be able to stop the walkout they called Hester and asked for the late night meeting.
For three hours the group met,hammering out the agreement that led to yesterday's meeting.Hester agreed to recommend that the men go back to work in return for four things:
No retaliatory action by the government against the men who did not go to work yesterday morning.
A concession to allow sergeants working higher crime areas inside the Beltway to put two men in a car at any time the men deem it necessary.
An agreement that Rhoads begin investigating the possibility of a central processing and lock-up area for the county.
Hogan and Rhoads coming to the FOP lodge yesterday to listen to the complaints of the rank-and-file and publicly supporting the police after the meeting was over.
By 10:30 a.m. about 250 officers had gathered in the large pavilion behind the union headquarters. Rhoads, dressed in a windbreaker, arrived first and stood on the hill overlookng the pavilion, nervously smoking a cigarette. Three weeks ago he had vowed to quit smoking. Moments later, Hogan arrived.
For close to three hours Hogan, then Rhoads and finally state's attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr., who prosecuted Johnson, talked to the men.
"I think these men are concerned about their safety and I don't blame them," Marshall said before going down the hill to address the police. "They are upset because they think the trial lost track of the issue, that the police instead of the defendent became the issue. I think that's wrong and so do they."
After his speech, which was greeted by a cheering, foot-stomping ovation, Marshall said the men asked him. "How could they (the jurors) do it?"
"I told them they could thank their friends at The Washington Post for this," Marshall said. "I feel the media did influence the decision because abviously the evidence did not."
All four speakers at the meeting, Hogan, Rhoads, Marshall and Hester, criticized press coverage of the county police in recent years, saying the coverage was at least partially responsibility for the verdict.
"There are 12 jurors out there right now who have the blood of two police officers on their hands," Hester said after the rally. "We all know that."
Most officers leaving the rally said "no comment," or cursed reporters who asked questions as they left. "It's all your fault," several officers said. "You have blood on your hands, too." CAPTION: Picture, Prince George's Executive Lawrence Hogan, Left, talks as police union president Laney Hester waits turn. By James A. Parcell-The Washington Post