SEABROOK – Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD) ended 2018 on a sour note following the arrest of six-year veteran officer Ryan Macklin on multiple charges of rape, including assault on an undocumented woman during a traffic stop, and a lawsuit by 11 of its officers claiming a hostile work environment.
Transitioning to 2019, the department hailed itself above those incidents with major arrests and being a part of law changes in Prince George’s County.
However, reports of police misconduct, among other controversial issues, continue to raise concerns surrounding the relationship and trust between community members and police.
Following Macklin’s arrest, the conduct of officers began to be carefully examined, especially in how law enforcement responded to a crime of their own. Recently, on Dec. 2, a former part-time Fairmount Heights police officer was arrested for sexual assault.
PGPD’s Internal Affairs Division arrested Martique C. Vanderpool, 30, of Capitol Heights, for raping a citizen after a traffic stop prior to his resignation. The preliminary investigation revealed that on Sept. 6 at about 11:20 pm, Vanderpool and a second officer with the Fairmount Heights Police Department (FHPD) conducted a traffic stop at Sheriff Road and Cabin Branch Drive in Capitol Heights.
During the stop, Vanderpool asked the victim, an adult female, to step out of her car, and she was handcuffed.
Vanderpool then called for a tow truck to impound her car. The victim was taken back to the FHPD Station. While there, Vanderpool told the victim if she engaged in a sexual act with him, he would release her. The victim complied. After the sexual assault, Vanderpool issued the victim several citations, drove her to the impound lot, and had her car released back to her.
He was subsequently charged with first-degree rape, second-degree rape, second-degree assault, and related charges, said police in a Dec. 3 statement. He was last reported in the custody of the Department of Corrections. A court commissioner ordered him held on a no-bond status.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland challenged PGPD after an officer-involved shooting from Sept. 26 sparked considerable controversy after the death of an armed suspect. Police with the City of Hyattsville responded to a call from Starbucks near The Mall at Prince George’s.
A call to dispatch stated that 49-year-old Leonard Shand had attacked an employee with a pipe three days earlier and returned to the store. When officers arrived, they encountered Shand armed with two knives, one in each hand. Hyattsville police officers immediately urged him to drop the weapons, police said. Hyattsville Police also requested the assistance of PGPD, who responded to the scene along with an officer with Mount Rainier police.
After unsuccessful attempts to “deescalate the situation” through the use of non-lethal techniques (taser, bean bags, pepper spray) over 30 minutes, Shand began charging at an officer while the knives were still in his hands, officials said. As Shand started to charge, a combined 10 officers discharged their firearms. Shand was later pronounced dead on the scene.
Thus, all 10 officers, including PGPD officers David Cheatham, Dario Daniel and Kesha Nsiah-Ababio, were placed on administrative leave during the investigation in accordance with standard operational procedure, according to PGPD. Questions of whether excessive force was used still remain.
Calls for body cameras increased following the death of Shand. PGPD spokesperson Jennifer Donelan confirmed that county officers were wearing body cameras and the dash-cams on police vehicles also caught the incident. The videos were being used as part of the investigation, officials said.
“We stand by anybody who wants body cameras on our officers,” Donelan said. “…We fully support our officers wearing body cameras, and it is something that we want to see in the future, and we working with our county executive’s office to make it happen.”
Correspondingly, a local criminal justice organization started a public campaign demanding the removal of PGPD Chief Hank Stawinski after a 24-year-old man was severely injured during a traffic stop when officials attempted to arrest him.
According to officials, Demonte Ward-Blake attempted to flee from custody while handcuffed when officers brought him down, injuring his spinal cord and leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
In a press conference, Stawinski characterized the incident as a “horrible accident.” However, Stawinski’s unwillingness to release the dash camera footage to the public triggered the Prince George’s County Community Justice Coalition for Justice & Accountability to begin an online petition against Stawinski in late October.
The string of incidents and calls for Stawinski’s removal culminated in a local town hall event that featured 13 panelists of local politicians, activists, policymakers and police hosted by Reid Temple A.M.E. Church in Glenn Dale in which Stawinski did not attend.
The event gave community members a transparent look into the police’s actions, and allowed for the open expression of concerns with law enforcement and how the community can address those problems.
Billed as part of a series of “civility conversations,” the town hall addressed several topics, including community relations built by police departments, body cameras, accountability and police law in the panel setting.
According to State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy, only 80 officers in PGPD are fully equipped with body cameras, a statistic that admittedly is not available to the public, and believes all county officers are equipped.
However, there were instances when Stawinski did respond to negative incidents, like when Cpl. Stephen Downey faced a jail sentence of up to five years after being convicted of second-degree assault and misconduct for punching a handcuffed man multiple times in the face on Oct. 25.
“I don’t think this person has a place in the ranks of the Prince George’s County Police Department,” Stawinski said in a press conference.
Possible ICE raid-related occurrences drew local attention as well. In a November meeting, the Prince George’s County Council placed particular emphasis on the Community Inclusiveness Act, a piece of legislation proposed by District 2 Councilwoman Deni Taveras.
The bill codifies Prince George’s County’s administrative policy that county law enforcement agencies “shall not honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers in non-criminal interactions, and mandates that all county agencies not engage in immigration enforcement.”
According to a county council release, the PGPD re-released the policy in July, “prohibiting officers from stopping, searching, arresting or detaining a person based solely upon administrative immigration warrants.”
The bill was proposed in response to several undocumented immigrants in Prince George’s County were taken into federal custody after encounters with law enforcement officials. This legislative measure enhances the relationship and trust between community members and local law enforcement, Taveras added.
PGPD concluded 2019 by making one of its biggest arrests following the deadly stabbing of a man outside of a local Popeyes in mid-November.
On Nov. 13, PGPD located and arrested Ricoh McClain, 30, of District Heights, who was charged with fatally stabbing Kevin Tyrell Davis, 28, outside of a Popeyes location on Livingston Road in Oxon Hill, police said.
What began as an alleged heated altercation in a Popeyes chicken sandwich line quickly escalated to a deadly incident that wound up garnering national headlines, but detectives were able to bring the case to close after a collaborative 10-day investigation.