- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2000

A veteran Maryland police officer is looking at other possible assignments in Kosovo after the firm overseeing the Mitrovica jail where he works decided to close it, following an escape Saturday that drew hundreds of demonstrators.

Four guards injured in that escape are also looking for other assignments with Vincent duCellier, 62, who has been in charge of the jail since May. He had retired in 1988 as deputy chief after 30 years with Prince George's County police.

"I'm happy about it," said Toby Jean duCellier, from her home in Smithsburg, Md., where her husband had been police chief until volunteering a year ago for the multinational police force in the war-torn former Yugoslavia.

"His life, and the guards' lives, were surely in danger there," Mrs. duCellier said, explaining that the hundreds of Serbs who began rioting Saturday remain outside the jail.

The jail is in Mitrovica, which is divided between Serbian and Albanian populations. DynCorp, a British firm directing the multinational police for the United Nations, has decided to close the jail.

Mrs. duCellier said that will be difficult because demonstrators prevented the transfer of prisoners, about two-thirds of whom are Serbs, immediately after 15 prisoners broke out Saturday with a loaded gun.

"I'm doing a good job," Officer duCellier said Monday, shortly after U.N. Administrator Bernard Kouchner announced that he was suspending Officer duCellier.

But Officer duCellier told his wife that Mr. Kouchner, who is from France, did not have that authority. He reported for work as usual and was told by the regional commander that he was doing a good job.

"He was never suspended," Mrs. duCellier said. "The police officers did exactly what they were supposed to do. They're heroes."

The situation is becoming even more volatile because of an upcoming election in late October. U.S. State Department officials are expected to present the problems with multinational policing at U.N. headquarters in New York City, where leaders of 155 nations are meeting.

Officer duCellier was one of the first 500 U.S. officers to take over police work in Kosovo for the United Nations after an uneasy peace between the ethnic factions. Now there are 3,000 police officers from 42 countries.

Thirteen of the escapees are believed to have fled about a mile from Mitrovica to the safety of Serbia, beyond the United Nations' reach. Two were captured within hours after the escape, hiding beneath military vehicles in the fenced one-acre compound that includes the jail.

The two recaptured inmates gave indication that Officer duCellier's efforts to provide more humane treatment for his inmates has had some impact, Mrs. duCellier said.

"They had a gun and it was loaded," Officer duCellier told his wife. "They chose not to kill our people. Maybe that is some small measure of respect for our officers."

Mrs. duCellier said that before her husband took over the center in May, there were five escapes in three months under the previous French commanders.

Since taking charge, Officer duCellier has obtained more nutritious food and water supplies, and directed guards and inmates to clean up the jail and cells, and the inmates to bathe and wash their clothes, Mrs. duCellier said.

"[Previous commanders] didn't even seem to care if they had food or water," Mrs. duCellier said.

"Vince even bought a satellite dish," his wife said, in preparation for a world soccer match "so all the [inmates] could watch the game."

Perhaps the biggest problem remaining is the lack of guarantees for speedy trials. Inmates are awaiting trials on charges of arson, mass murder and homicide.

"It's supposed to be only for those people awaiting trial," Mrs. duCellier said, but one inmate has been convicted and is serving his eight-year sentence in the jail.

"Vince says this is the most genuine police work he's ever done," said Mrs. duCellier of her husband who, after retiring in 1988, became chief at Berkeley Springs, W.Va., and Smithsburg, Md.

"He knows what he is doing," Mrs. duCellier said, explaining that her husband had been in charge of corrections in Prince George's County and wrote the operators' manual that is still in effect.

Other Kosovo jail employees had heard the suspension reports, including seven interpreters and two cleaning ladies. They were worried about Officer duCellier's future.

"Two of them, men, came into the office [Tuesday], crying," Officer duCellier told his wife.

"After 40 years of police work, I know there is a political angle to this," Mrs. duCellier said, referring to rumors that Albanians may have accused her husband of helping the Serbs to escape.

"He wants to stay there and finish his work," his wife said. "He feels this is very important."

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