- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

A former Prince George's County, Md. police officer was sentenced in federal court yesterday to 10 years in prison for violating the civil rights of a burglary suspect by releasing her police dog on him six years ago.
Critics were pleased at the maximum sentence until they learned that Stephanie C. Mohr, 31, may not go to prison for at least six months while her attorneys appeal the trial verdict and sentencing to the 4th U.S. District Court of Appeals in Richmond.
"There's an arrogance that permeates police in America," said Mauri Saalakhan, director of the Peace and Justice Foundation, claiming that all police charged with crimes are released on bond or personal recognizance.
About 50 demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt before the sentencing. They and their signs urged that Mohr receive a stiff sentence, and that other Prince George's County police be charged and convicted.
The signs carried slogans that proclaimed "Bigots with Badges," "We Want Justice Now" and "Human rights in PG."
The People's Coalition for Police Accountability listed a "dirty dozen" county officers, including 10 men, Mohr and another woman, accused of assaulting suspects without cause or because of race. Five of the suspects were killed.
Judge Deborah K. Chasanow imposed the sentence on Mohr and continued the officer on personal recognizance during a 41/2-hour hearing yesterday in U.S. District Court. Ten years was the maximum by law, but the judge could have imposed more years because of extenuating circumstances.
"I find the defendant's testimony was false," Judge Chasanow said of two trials for Mohr and three other officers in March and August.
"A canine can be a dangerous weapon," the judge said, responding to the claim that a dangerous weapon was wrongfully used in arresting Jorge Herrera-Cruz of El Salvador and Ricardo G. Mendez, 34, of Mexico at about 4:20 a.m. on Sept. 21, 1995.
On surveillance because of a series of burglaries, police found the two men on the roof of a printing shop in Takoma Park. Mohr, then a police officer for two years, released her dog, Valk, after the men came down from the roof.
Witnesses' testimonies differed in some respects. Mohr said she released Valk after she saw Mendez make a sudden movement.
Police Sgt. Anthony Delozier, 40, who eventually was acquitted, testified that he had asked Takoma Park Police Sgt. Dennis W. Bonn if Mohr's dog "could get a bite," and Bonn said, "Yes."
It was learned later that the men were homeless, and that Mendez had been previously convicted of dealing drugs and deported twice from the United States.
Bonn subsequently retired. He was charged as an accessory after the fact. After testifying in the trials, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 months in prison.
Perhaps a key in Mohr's appeal is that Judge Chasanow allowed witnesses of two other incidents involving the officer and her dog in her second trial. In 1998, Mohr was accused of threatening to sic her dog on a black homeowner while police looked for a fugitive. In 1997, her dog chewed on a 15-year-old boy as police sought a burglar.
Usually, evidence of other unassociated incidents or crimes is not allowed in the trial of another crime. Testimonies of those incidents had not been permitted in Mohr's first trial.
Prosecution for a third trial of Mohr could be difficult. Attorneys said both Mendez and Herrera-Cruz have returned to their homelands. Herrera-Cruz has since died, said Kimberley Propeack, attorney for CASA of Maryland, a community assistance program for Hispanics.
"Jorge died," Miss Propeack said. "We have to remember her victims His relatives said he was devastated by the way he was treated."
Yesterday, defense attorneys David Simpson and Fred Bennett sought a lesser sentence because of Bonn's 15-month term; because Mohr was following her police training during the arrest; because of her previous good behavior; because of rearing her son, who is now 2 years old; and because of difficulties in getting a job in the future. She lives in Bowie with her fiancee and their son.
The adopted daughter of an Army nurse and a National Security Agency father, Mohr was on the National Honor Society when she graduated from Glen Burnie, Md., High School. She then got a B.A. degree in sociology at Towson State College and wanted to get into police work, Mr. Simpson said.
Mr. Simpson said five criminals fired 30 shots at Mohr in July 1994 as she patrolled an apartment complex. One shot grazed the back of her head. Those criminals were captured, convicted and sentenced to 18 months in jail.
"None of this was done willfully or maliciously," Mohr read from a statement as she began to cry. "Thanks for your time and consideration."
"We believe she should do every day and every second of her time," said Jonathan Hutto of Amnesty International.


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