Drunken-driving cases plague P.G. sheriff’s office

Three deputies under investigation

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Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Deputy Ronald E. Gatling II’s twin 3-year-old daughters were in the back seat of his SUV when he drifted into an intersection and struck an oncoming vehicle while off duty in Charles County, according to court records.

Officers at the scene quickly determined that Deputy Gatling was drunk and found a coffee cup filled with what smelled like alcohol and an empty travel-sized bottle of Pinnacle whipped cream vodka in his Nissan Pathfinder. No one was seriously injured in the Aug. 9 crash. Deputy Gatling was charged with a series of offenses including second-degree child abuse and driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. Last month, he pleaded guilty to driving a vehicle while impaired by alcohol while transporting a minor and served a 10-day jail sentence.

At the end of his sentence, he went back to work. Officials in the sheriff’s office said Deputy Gatling is receiving full pay on administrative duty while they investigate the incident.

At least two other sheriff’s deputies recently charged with offenses related to drunken driving are also on the job, although their police powers have been suspended while their cases are investigated.

Sheriff Melvin C. High, the county’s former police chief who has served as sheriff since 2010, said internal investigations at times can reveal areas in which employees may need more training. But when incidents under review involve a criminal offense, he said, “individual attention” is more often required.

“I certainly am always concerned about the individual member,” Sheriff High said, adding that he tries to balance his concern over employees’ situations with that of the agency’s image.

The situation doesn’t sit well with Jan Withers, an Upper Marlboro resident serving as national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

“It’s very disturbing to me when law enforcement officers have been charged with drunk driving. We look to them for a higher standard,” Ms. Withers said. “It’s really upsetting to me that they feel they somehow have the right to violate the law.”

The sheriff’s office makes its standards on personal conduct clear to employees, spokeswoman Sharon Taylor said.

“There is a policy on governing their conduct. They know what that is. The sheriff expects them to behave in that way,” Ms. Taylor said.

In Deputy Gatling’s case, court papers say deputies from the Charles County sheriff’s office arrived on the scene of his crash and detected “a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from his breath” and that he “was slurring his speech and swaying while standing.” In his vehicle, they also found several unopened beer containers and travel-sized liquor bottles purchased an hour before the crash.

Court documents say Deputy Gatling immediately requested an attorney and refused to submit to a blood alcohol test.

The sheriff’s inspector general, Mark Spencer, a former inspector general with the county police, is in charge of reviewing the administrative investigation of the cases, Ms. Taylor said. The administrative review could result in penalties including reprimand and termination.

Another deputy who faced drunken-driving charges this year was accused of driving while intoxicated in 2010. Charges were never brought against him and a police officer released the deputy from custody before a blood alcohol test was administered.

Donovan Lee Gholston last month pleaded no contest to eluding police and received probation before judgment for driving while intoxicated for a July 2 incident in Calvert County. Court records did not contain a specific account of what occurred during the incident.

It’s not the first time the deputy reportedly had such troubles. According to a 2010 report in The Washington Post, Deputy Gholston’s personal car was found in a ditch in the early morning hours of March 11, 2010. He failed a field sobriety test and was taken to a district police station. A Prince George’s County police sergeant at the station released Deputy Gholston to the sheriff’s internal affairs investigators without pressing charges.

Though the incident prompted an internal investigation of the sergeant, court records do not show any evidence that criminal charges were filed against the deputy.

A third sheriff’s deputy faces charges including driving while impaired by alcohol and failure to obey a stop sign. Maryland State Police stopped Deputy Titus Maurice Coleman Nov. 25 near Route 5 and the Capital Beltway. His case has not yet been adjudicated in Prince George’s County District Court.

None of the three deputies responded to phone messages requesting comment.

Aside from confirming the names of three deputies under internal investigation, the sheriff’s office declined to provide specific information on whether any additional deputies are being investigated for driving under the influence.

“I don’t think there are any others in that category,” Sheriff High said.

Ms. Withers said MADD expects the judicial system and the deputies’ agency to hold them accountable.

“I’m disappointed because they are officers from my county,” she said. “Certainly MADD definitely believes that any person should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law if they are charged and found guilty of driving impaired.”

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