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Two county officers indicted by grand jury

PGPDUPPER MARLBORO – Last Thursday, A Prince George's County grand jury indicted two Prince George's County police officers in separate incidents.

Cpl. George Merkel, a 14-year veteran of the department who is assigned to Bureau of Patrol, was on routine patrol on Sept. 22, 2016 when he saw a homeless woman sleeping on the sidewalk outside a vacant store in Lanham.

He reported the incident to dispatch and approached the victim on foot. Two other nearby officers responded and allegedly saw Merkel yelling and shouting expletives at the woman. The officer then pulled the victim to her feet by her ears and struck her on the side of the head with an open hand. The victim left the scene on foot. Following the incident, the other two officers who witnessed the encounter reported it to a superior.

Merkel faces charges of misconduct in office and second-degree assault. His police powers were suspended in October of 2016.

The grand jury also indicted Cpl. William Diaz, a 9-year veteran of the department who is assigned to the Bureau of Investigation.

It was discovered that Diaz, on multiple occasions, would warn a prostitute in areas where the task force was conducting operations, allowing her to avoid arrest. It was also discovered that on at least two occasions, Diaz solicited a prostitute for sex while on duty.

Diaz was indicted for misconduct in office, obstructing and hindering a police investigation, and other related charges for his actions when he was assigned to a task force that primarily handled prostitution and related offenses.

“It is very concerning any time an officer who is entrusted to protect and serve the citizens of Prince George’s County steps outside of their duties and betrays the public’s trust,” said Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks. “While these instances are troubling to all of us, I must reiterate that the vast majority of our officers carry out their duties with the highest level of integrity and professionalism.”

Both of these cases were brought to the State’s Attorney’s Office by county police, as part of their internal review to determine if criminal charges were warranted.

In 2016, a grand jury indicted three county police officers.  

Officer Juan Hernandez was indicted in December for second-degree assault and misconduct in office, in October Cpl. Cordell Barbour was indicted on a theft scheme, and in July Officer First Class James Sims was indicted for taking inappropriate photos of woman.

On Feb. 17, Sims was suspended for one year with three years of supervised probation. 

Chief Hank Stawinski issued a statement on the indictments.

“I am proud of the culture of accountability within the department,” he said. “I respect the courage of the officers who took responsibility for bringing these issues to the attention of the department. Timely reporting allowed our investigators to gather and examine evidence. Delay in reporting prevents proper accountability because evidence is lost, recollections fade, and ultimately justice may be denied.”

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