MD - MVA mix-up leaves woman in tangle during traffic stopgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
By George Dorsey News-Post Staff
Rachael Reinhardt was late for church Sunday morning, so when she was stopped on I-70 near Linganore Road for speeding, she wasn't surprised — until she was arrested, searched and jailed because of a "computer glitch."
"I couldn't believe what was happening," said Ms. Reinhardt, 22, of Mount Airy. For the next four hours she was a state prisoner, accused of driving in Maryland with a suspended license. She was handcuffed and twice subjected to roadside pat-down searches by male officers.
She was told by arresting Trooper Kevin Sinai not to talk with her passenger — her 9-year-old niece who was terrified.
"She's hearing impaired," Ms. Reinhardt said. "She believed, somehow, that she was at fault for my arrest. It was terrible. They took her away from me. She was left at a convenience store where my father worked while I was taken to jail."
Trooper Sinai declined to discuss the arrest, saying only that he had a copy of Motor Vehicle Administration records that showed she was driving on a suspended license when she was pulled over on Sunday. The MVA admits, however, that the records were wrong and her license was valid.
It was Trooper Sinai's attitude that really irritated Ms. Reinhardt.
"He was cocky to me. He cursed at me. He told me to never get closer to him than two feet." Ms. Reinhardt, at 110 pounds and 5 feet, 4 inches tall, is half the trooper's weight and nearly a foot shorter.
"On the way to jail, he was singing," Ms. Reinhardt said. "I was so embarrassed. I'd never been arrested before. I just didn't understand what was happening. No one would tell me anything."
At Central Booking, located inside the Frederick County Adult Detention Center, Ms. Reinhardt joined Maryland's criminal tracking system. She was fingerprinted and had her mug shots taken. She was searched again, once by a female officer and later by a male officer, before she was placed in a holding cell.
Four hours after the 9:15 a.m. traffic stop, Ms. Reinhardt was released from jail into the custody of her boyfriend Scott Brunk. Monday morning they were at the MVA asking why.
Joann E. Fleishell, assistant manager of the Frederick MVA, described the incident as "unfortunate. But it happens.
"Ms. Reinhardt's license was suspended six months earlier for failure to pay a traffic citation," Ms. Fleishell said. When Ms. Reinhardt learned of the suspension, she paid the fine "within five days, but the suspension was never cleared by MVA until Monday," Ms. Fleishell said. "But her license is valid. "
Ms. Fleishell, who immediately corrected Ms. Reinhardt's driving record Monday, suggested that she should have carried a copy of the paid ticket that restored her license.
"Also," she said, "the officer didn't have to arrest her. He could have given her a ticket and let her go. Many do."
Trooper Sinai's supervisor, Cpl. William Bergan of the Frederick barrack, also refused to discuss the arrest, saying, "It hasn't gone to court. I'm not at liberty to discuss it." Cpl. Bergan would not discuss either the pat-down searches or the search of her entire car. He refused to answer any other questions.
Maj. Greg Shipley, of the public information office at state police headquarters in Pikesville, said he had the Sunday printout from MVA showing her license was suspended, but he refused to release a copy to the press. He noted the suspension had been corrected by MVA on Monday.
Maj. Shipley said officers are trained to "use the blade of the hand during pat-down searches of females." He said officers used minimal intrusion but that the searches are required for officer safety.
Maj. Shipley said police — when the vehicle is not towed — had the authority to search the passenger compartment and Ms. Reinhardt's purse. If the car was to be stored at another location, police would make an inventory search of the entire vehicle to ensure all valuables are identified prior to storage.
Ms. Reinhardt said police searched the interior and the trunk of her car. At her request, police left her purse, already searched, in the trunk of the car.
Maj. Shipley said correct police procedures were followed during the arrest process. "Someone made a mistake. But it was not the Maryland State Police."
Frederick County State's Attorney Scott Rolle viewed the arrest differently. "Based on today's MVA documents, Ms. Reinhardt's license was valid on Sunday. We will dismiss that ticket. In consideration for what happened to her, we will also dismiss the speeding ticket. We can do that for her."
Tom Surock, a spokesman for the MVA, said Wednesday that a letter is in the mail to Ms. Reinhardt that shows her license was and is valid. The problem occurred between the computer system at District Court, where she paid the ticket to restore her license, and MVA's computers. The court uses the citation number to track tickets while the MVA uses her driver's license number, or Soundex number.
The original ticket issued by police had the wrong Soundex number. According to the District Court computer, she had paid the traffic ticket, but MVA failed to clear the suspension because they had a different Soundex number. "This was an isolated incident," Mr. Surock said.
Ms. Reinhardt said since The Frederick News-Post started asking questions about the traffic stop, police have called her at home but she didn't want to talk to them. "They weren't offering apologies," she said. "No one has."
-- Doris (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 22, 2001