- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Montgomery County's (Md.) police chief, answering accusations that racial profiling is still prevalent in his department, yesterday defended officers who handcuffed a black White House aide mistaken for a carjacker.

With guns drawn, officers ordered Bob Nash, director of White House presidential personnel, out of his sport utility vehicle and handcuffed him Sept. 6, Chief Charles A. Moose said.

Mr. Nash's wife, Janis Kearney, who is President Clinton's personal historian, left the vehicle on her own and ran over to her husband. She was not detained, said Capt. Bill O'Toole, a police spokesman.

Police had been looking for a stolen vehicle that matched the description of Mr. Nash's Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV).

"We're very sorry that this had to happen to Mr. Nash," Chief Moose said on WTOP-AM's "Ask the Chief" program. "We don't want anyone to have to go through this, but … we are trying to recover property, we're trying to do a very difficult job."

The issue came up on the radio show by a caller who identified himself as Ben Johnson, director of the president's Initiative for One America.

"This was very, very humiliating to one of the nation's highest ranking public servants," said Mr. Johnson.

"I can appreciate what the chief is trying to accomplish out there, but more needs to be done to stop racial profiling from going on all over this country."

To that, Chief Moose replied: "This was not racial profiling. The officers did not know the race of the person driving the car."

According to Capt. O'Toole, police received a 911 call at 9:18 p.m. Sept. 6 from a man who said someone put a gun to his back and took his 1998 black Infiniti QX4 with temporary tags.

Police interviewed the victim near the scene of the crime, Glenallen Road near Georgia Avenue in Wheaton, and posted a lookout for an armed black male.

Soon, an officer driving southbound on Georgia Avenue near Wheaton Plaza spotted a dark Infiniti, the same model, with temporary tags. He called for backup and initiated a "high-risk stop" at 10 p.m. with the help of about a half-dozen officers.

"From our standpoint, we were dealing with an armed suspect who had used a weapon to take a car," the chief said.

Officers drew their guns and demanded that the driver leave the vehicle and walk backward. When the driver, Mr. Nash, reached a safe point, the police cuffed him and patted him down.

Mr. Nash identified himself as a White House staffer, and his wife joined him.

Once they were made aware of the mistake, the officers apologized and explained their actions. The whole thing was "professional," Capt. O'Toole said.

"Mr. Nash was extremely cooperative with us," Capt. O'Toole said. The stop lasted eight minutes.

Chief Moose conceded Mr. Nash was taller than the suspect description, but officers making a stop at 10 p.m. have trouble judging height, he said. And police dispatches mentioned nothing of a woman passenger, but there was time to pick up a companion, the chief said.

Later that night, Mr. Nash called a Montgomery County police sergeant to verify that the officers were in fact searching for a carjacker in a similar vehicle. The sergeant faxed over a copy of the 911 call, and Mr. Nash never filed a complaint.

Chief Moose learned of the incident days later and called to personally explain his officers' actions.

Last week, an opinion piece appeared in USA Today stating that Mrs. Kearney has been "traumatized" and Mr. Nash "shaken."

"What happens sometimes is that overzealous policing affects people in ways it shouldn't," the piece quoted Mr. Nash as saying.

Mr. Nash coordinates Mr. Clinton's political appointments. Mrs. Kearney keeps track of schedules and other presidential papers, but also maintains a daily account of the president's activities.

Mr. Nash was not available for comment, according to White House officials.

Since Sept. 1, Montgomery County officers have been required to record traffic-stop information on hand-held, palm-sized computers as part of an agreement between the Department of Justice, the Montgomery County Police Department and the police union.

The agreement, which stems from complaints that blacks were treated unfairly by police, calls for officers to record the race and sex of people pulled over in traffic stops. Police also are required to note other details about the incident, such as whether a search or arrest took place.

The Institute of Law and Data has been hired to analyze the information, but it is too soon for any results. Chief Moose said there appears to be no reduction in the number of stops made.

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