Friday, April 18, 2014 4:37 PM
Published on: Wednesday, January 27, 2010
By Paige L. Hill
He started out helping a 90-year-old woman change a flat tire and ended up being tased and arrested.
Preston McCann, 23, still can't believe what happened to him on the morning of Sept. 23, and he's still upset about it.
Shortly after 1 a.m. that early Wednesday, McCann and a few of his friends left Growler's Restaurant in Gaithersburg after watching a magician perform and returned to the nearby apartment of his friend, Jean-Francois Noel. Looking forward to a planned move to California in three days to take up a rock-climbing challenge, McCann said he didn't have a care in the world.
Shortly after, McCann and two friends, Noel and John Wittig Jr., walked Noel's dog around the neighborhood, when they saw a car driving by with a flat tire. The car stopped at the railroad tracks. They motioned what appeared to be an elderly female driver into the Growler's parking lot and offered to change her tire.
"She had difficulty pulling into the parking lot. As she was navigating in, I mentioned to Preston that I suspected she had dementia - she didn't seem to know entirely what was going on," said Wittig, who left the scene shortly thereafter.
After McCann and Noel finished changing the tire, the woman offered to pay the pair. They refused her offer but kept talking with the elderly woman, who asked they call her "Mary." When a police car drove past them, McCann flagged down Montgomery County Police Officer Robert Skelton, and he joined the group gathered in the parking lot.
“I thought, saves me from being dirty for the rest of my shift,” Skelton later said at trial when he found out McCann and others had changed the flat tire.
McCann and his friends said they noticed something about Skelton as well.
"Right away, the officer seemed determined to revoke her license," Noel said.
Skelton asked the woman questions about her driver's license and perceived "she clearly had diminished mental capacity," according to his police report. McCann stood behind Skelton and offered to drive her home.
"I was trying to represent her in some way because she didn't seem to be able to do it herself," McCann said, explaining he felt guilty for possibly having the woman's license revoked. He also said he was concerned because the elderly woman reminded him of his mother and grandmother. And, ultimately, he said he wasn't fond of how he perceived Skelton treated her.
That, apparently, proved to be his undoing.
According to the police report, and later court testimony by both men, McCann then said to Skelton he "wanted to make sure we didn't drive her to the station and harangue her with questions," and Skelton believed it to be a "blatant insult."
"I told McCann that I knew what I was doing, that he had gone from being a helpful citizen to overbearing and that he needed to leave," Skelton said during the November trial. Skelton called for back-up from county police and Officer Courtney Maines arrived in her patrol car followed by Officer Matthew Dove with the K-9 unit. Two more officers arrived within minutes. Maines asked McCann to step back to the sidewalk where he continued to observe, and Noel left the scene.
Dove said in court that he obtained McCann's license and found McCann had no criminal background or record. Skelton again asked him to leave, while the officer tried to make contact with the woman's family. Several minutes passed and McCann continued to remain on the sidewalk and voice his offer to drive the woman home, stating he had a right to at least remain on the sidewalk and have his license returned.
"I'm a firm believer in that if we don't exercise our rights, we have none," McCann said.
But his presence was apparently getting to Skelton, who said he, himself, was becoming "more forceful" with each time he asked McCann to leave the scene.
"Well, he wasn't yelling or shouting, but I felt like I was being shouted over," Skelton said, who also noted McCann never used profanity. "I had to keep diverting my attention away from the old lady," Skelton said in trial.
The 5-foot-8, 150-pound McCann related in trial that it was at this point, "[Skelton] said, 'I'm tired of this guy; get the f*** out of here.' And I said back to him, 'This is America; you can't just get tired of someone and do this to me."
Skelton, by his own admission made the confrontation physical. He testified that he grabbed McCann "by the arm and shoulder" and "pushed him 20 yards across the tracks." Maines followed behind.
"I grabbed one arm and Officer Maines the other and he twisted away from us," Skelton said. "So I said, 'Put your arms behind your back or you will be tased."
"I wasn't willing to concede, because I maintain I was in a public place and had a right to be there," said McCann, who added that he repeatedly asked why he was being arrested. He then turned his back to the officers with hands to his chest. Skelton acknowledged in the trial McCann neither ran away from nor raised a hand against the officer. Skelton also testified that McCann also did not yell or curse at the officers.
"He was refusing to submit to being arrested," Skelton said of McCann, who he called "a pain in the rear" in trial.
So, Skelton testified that he tased him.
The 50,000 volts of electricity zapped into his back caused McCann to fall to the ground. When asked in trial by McCann's defense attorney John Monahan if a taser should only be used as "an alternative measure of force" when the individual "poses a threat of immediate harm to themselves or others," Skelton agreed. Skelton also said he believed McCann was neither armed nor dangerous.
"He had plenty of chances to go,” but he wouldn't Skelton said, though Dove said he had taken McCann's driver's license. Maines handcuffed McCann and Dove came over to assist. According to Dove's testimony, McCann was "rolling around on the ground" and so he put his knee in McCann's back to keep him from getting up.
"I continued to ask why I was being arrested. I never found out until three hours later when I was in a cell," McCann said. Neither Skelton nor Maines could recall in trial whether they informed McCann he was being arrested on charges of "intentionally and knowingly obstruct and hinder a police officer" and "intentionally resisting a lawful arrest," as stated in the police report.
When the defense asked Skelton how McCann specifically obstructed and hindered justice, Skelton replied, "He hindered my investigation." When questioned further about which investigation Skelton was speaking of, he explained "investigating this woman's family."
Monahan pressed Skelton to explain why he thought McCann didn't have a right to stand on the sidewalk, and Skelton responded, "No, not if I couldn't focus on the old lady."
"He had a right to stay on the street; he had a right to wait for his license," Monahan said, in McCann's defense.
McCann was booked and jailed at the Montgomery County Detention Center that morning, with bail posted at $2,500. The court trial took place Nov. 3 with Judge William Simmons Graves presiding and no jury. Monahan later said the trial was held without jury upon his "judgment call." McCann was offered a plea bargain before the hearing to complete 24 hours of community service and have the fees waived, but he declined.
"I wanted to have my case heard, because I knew it was wrong," McCann said.
"The fact that it started out as him asking for police assistance and then getting himself arrested is not a typical case," said Graves, who pronounced McCann guilty on both counts. He told McCann in his sentencing, "You are not a criminal, but you got caught up in your feelings about your rights."
Graves went on to make reference to McCann's apparent interest in the community and therefore, sentenced him to 40 hours of community service. Graves also gave McCann one year of probation and waived court fees.
"He's just a concerned kid who stops to change a tire and minutes later he is tased and handcuffed on the ground," Monahan said, in his closing statement. "His heart was in the right place."
"It sounds like the officer was looking out for the safety and welfare of a woman who was in a potentially vulnerable situation," said Jane Milne, spokeswoman for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35.
"I wanted to go to the West Coast and chase my dreams," McCann said, looking back on his planned move to California. "I got caught up in doing a good deed. I got attached to Mary; I saw my mother and my grandmother in her, and now I have ultimately given up everything to help her," McCann said.
McCann completed 46 hours of community service with Interfaith Works and eventually withdrew the appeal, due to a lack of funds. He recently relocated to Texas where his mother resides and has put his rock-climbing dreams away for now.
"I don't even like to say this, but what I learned out of this is that you shouldn't stop to help someone," McCann said.
Posted By: Lydia D. York On: 2/14/2014
Title: Ratchet Police Force
Being a Rockville City resident for over 20 years, I've often had the displeasure of interacting with County, City and Sheriff staff. I agree with the other readers' post, which correctly stated that more often than not they're poorly trained, have bad attitudes, are self-righteous, practice discrimination, are rude and unprofessional; However, the above doesn't apply to ALL of them, ALL of the time. I can count on one hand the number of times, and the number of officers who've been nice, professional and helpful. That's not enough.
Posted By: tati On: 2/2/2011
Someone stops to do a good deed, and this is the final answer. I'm glad Mcann stood there to the end,some cops are unworthy of trust. There should be a new law, that if a a citizen is by his, or herself with a cop, they should have the right to call a family member or a friend to witness what is going on,before any action is taken. I've heard too many cop stories. I do have respect for law enforcement officers,my son is a Military Police. Perhaps the officers in the civilian side need more training. It should be mandated that they go back to class once a year. Like the people who do CPR so that they don't forget.
Posted By: Police State On: 4/16/2010
This is typically the type of abuse and rudeness that Montgomery COunty Cops dish out. They are bullies, poorly trained and understand people's rights only enough to lie in court to make themselves appear that they did nothing wrong.
And the judges go along with it. Typical.
Posted By: Citizen's Rights! On: 3/5/2010
Title: Petition for the Suspension or Dismissal of Skelton
Police officers are to "Protect and Serve".
Neither was performed by Officer Skelton. He and the assisting officer Maines, are guilty of assaulting a citizen. They should be arrested and charged. The fact there wasn't a jury, condemned Mr. McCann to his guilty fate. This is a shame on Montgomery County's judicial and police systems.
We citizens, need to stand up for our rights. At a minimum, the offending officers should be suspended.
If these officers cannot deal with a citizen peaceably voicing his discontent, then they do not deserve the title and power of a police "officer". They discredit all law enforcement officials.
This would make a great pro bono case for an aspiring lawyer.
Posted By: Gulf War Veteran On: 3/1/2010
Title: "Finally, Struck a Nerve"
@ Skelton about time to speak up their Barney Fife, did you finally find the bullet in your front pocket! Good thing you didn't have it in your hand cannon at the time.
We all get the one sided story "you forgot to mention that", duh.
We don't get the part about the 150lb McCann being such a physical threat not VERBAL THREAT to you that back up was required. Then when you had all those officers on the scene, together all of you couldn't take the 150lb McCann down without using a TASER? (WEAPON)
Why didn't you just say, You're under arrest then throw his ass down like a MAN or WOMAN then cuff and stuff him in a cruiser? Did you miss that class at the academy or where ever you got your training? As a former Military Police I know that was my favorite class.
I seen a fire fighter on the news a few weeks ago getting bitten repeatedly by a dog being rescued from the floods. Guess what, they didn't shoot the dog after all the barking and biting.
Skelton have you ever heard the rhyme about Sticks and Stones? Must not have or, You would have MENTIONED THAT.
Posted By: Constitutional lover On: 1/30/2010
For anybody interested in doing some research...the Supreme Court Case CITY OF HOUSTON V. HILL, 482 U. S. 451 (1987) , which is in some lights very similar situation at least with the details are reported in this article, the right to voice opposition and criticize an officer during an arrest was upheld.
Posted By: civil libertarian On: 1/29/2010
Title: Bad decisions by officer and judge
U.S. Supreme Court:
"The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state." Houston v. Hill 482 U.S. 451, 462-63 (1987) (finding overbroad on its face a municipal ordinance that made "interrupting" an officer a crime).
Posted By: PO3 R. Skelton, Montg. Co PD On: 1/28/2010
Title: One Sided
Very nice one sided article.
You never mention that i took the time to explain to Mr. McCann that the elderly lady was in need of more assistance then just him driving her home because she seemed to be an alzheimers patient, that she had been driving for hours and had no idea where she was, and had no idea how to get home. You never mention that after this explaination Mr. McCann refused to accept the idea that my contacting the elderly lady's family (through investigation because the elderly lady didn't know her daughters address or phone number) was the correct solution, and that in relation to Mr. McCann's refusal to accept this idea he began badgering me, which lead to me calling for backup on what should have been a simple public assistance call. You never mention that we did contact her daughter and granddaughter who came to pick her up and take her home, and that they were thankful we contacted them. You never mention that in this parking lot there were other pedestrians that were onlookers, but the difference between them and Mr. McCann was that Mr. McCann refused to just be an onlooker - instead he kept interjecting himself into the situation, which lead to me having to forcefully remove him away from the scene of the investigation after multiple warnings from several officers over the course of several minutes.
You also seem to blow over the fact that when he was told he was being arrested (which is not a negotiation) we tried to use minimal physical force to affect the arrest but he resisted the arrest by pulling away from our grasp, and that he was given another opportunity to submit to the arrest voluntarily before he was tased, but that he didn't comply.
AND REMEMBER THAT THE JUDGE HEARD BOTH SIDES OF THIS STORY, ALL THE FACTS OF THE CASE, AND FOUND MR. MCCANN GUILTY. I should also mention that Mr. McCann's attorney has been practicing law for 30+ years and recently served a term as the President of the Montgomery County Bar Association, so he's no pushover rookie lawyer.
I want to make it clear that Ofc. Maines, Ofc. Dove, and myself only acted IN RESPONSE to Mr. McCann's poor decisions and that lead to an unfortunate situation.