- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
An October traffic stop that Charles County Sheriff Rex Coffey and Capt. Michael Rackey took part in might lead to legal consequences for the Charles County Sheriff’s Office and already has resulted in disciplinary action against Rackey.
A video obtained by the Maryland Independent last week from a dashboard videocamera in one of the cruisers on the scene of the Oct. 25 incident shows Coffey pulling Jason David Miles, now 26, of La Plata from his truck following a police chase that concluded about 2 a.m. on Acton Lane near Wal-Mart in Waldorf. Miles was stopped on suspicion of drunken driving, speeding, reckless and negligent driving, avoiding a traffic stop initiated by officers and not having his truck’s headlights on.
In the course of the fracas, Miles sustained a small laceration above his eye, which he complains about several times on tape. Miles also can be heard asking for medical assistance, which Maj. Rob Cleaveland said he was later offered but turned down at the hospital.
In the video, Rackey also positions himself in such a way that the scene partially is obscured from view. Although he appears to give a thumbs-up to someone off camera, Cleaveland said Rackey is motioning to bring Miles to the car, and he can be heard saying as much.
In an interview Tuesday, Coffey said his being out that evening was nothing out of the ordinary.
“About X number of times a year, we do a special enforcement thing, and we bring out all our command staff. It’s something we’ve done ever since I was in office,” Coffey said. “We’d been having some commercial burglaries and wheel thefts, so we were all out.”
Coffey (D) said not every higher-up goes out at once in these instances, but he was among them that evening. He’d been driving around the Waldorf Ford dealership parking lot keeping an eye on things when he got a call from Capt. Ray Aportadera over the radio about a chase in progress and responded accordingly.
Coffey said Aportadera had seen a truck near the Checkers restaurant at the corner of Route 5 and U.S. 301 without its lights on and gave chase.
When he pulled out, Coffey said he saw a vehicle “coming out fast with no lights on” in his direction.
“I could see it cutting in and out of lights ... and I thought he was going to hit me on the tail end of my car, and he would have if I didn’t move over,” Coffey said. From there, Coffey said he joined the chase.
“He was doing such an excessive amount of speed,” Coffey said. “Anyone in their right mind would have stopped coming up on a police car.”
Coffey said as he caught up, Miles turned onto Acton Lane. Coffey was beside him and said Miles struck his vehicle. Following that, Coffey said he struck Miles’ car in an attempt to push him away. Miles’ truck went just a short distance before turning into a car dealership parking lot.
“I came out of my car ... and come into the parking lot and draw my gun. He sees me with my gun drawn and at that point puts up his hands,” Coffey said.
Although his hands were raised in submission, Coffey said pulling Miles from the vehicle was standard procedure.
“There’s nothing unusual about that,” Coffey said. “Let’s just say if I’m driving down the road and I get behind a drunk, and I pull them over and they cooperate and pull over, you would get that person out of the car and have a normal conversation with them ... all the field sobriety things.”
Coffey said Miles refused to take a breathalyzer test and was not given a field sobriety test.
“You just don’t do that in those situations. Because of his driving behavior and how he behaved and after he was taken into custody, how he continued to act, very aggressive and disorderly, you wouldn’t uncuff someone after that and ask them to take nine steps and say the alphabet and that sort of thing,” Coffey said.
Despite having pulled his gun, Coffey said he never filed a use-of-force report.
“When I wasn’t the sheriff ... I pulled my gun hundreds of times,” Coffey said. “We didn’t used to have to file a use-of-force report. No one reminded me of that, and because it just wasn’t something that came across to me, ... it’s an administrative thing. I just didn’t do it.”
Coffey maintained Miles was a menace, both while driving and after being stopped.
“He could have just killed someone. He could have just robbed a 7-Eleven on Route 5. You handle those situations differently than with someone who’s cooperating,” Coffey said.
Coffey acknowledged that in the tape, Rackey warns him of the camera.
“That’s what you would normally do. Cameras are everywhere,” Coffey said. “Police chases are volatile. You can understand that people’s emotions could get the best of you. It wouldn’t be even remotely the right thing to do. You want to remind your guys the cameras are on. Let me tell you this: Everyone here knows the cameras are always on. That’s nothing unusual.”
When asked why Rackey blocked the camera, Coffey said he was at a loss.
“I wish I knew the answer to that,” Coffey said. “I can just tell you this: I don’t know why he did that, but from the moment he did, he did nothing that indicates any cover-up, anything wrong. In fact, you hear him say to put him in the car numerous times. There’s nothing that shows any evidence of him doing anything wrong. Yeah, he had no business standing in front of the camera. I don’t think he knows why he did it, either. The fact is he did what he did.”
Coffey said the internal affairs investigation resulted in a $1,550 fine for Rackey, along with counseling from Coffey.
Coffey maintained no one struck Miles during the course of the incident. In fact, he said, he was unaware Miles had hit his face until after it happened.
Through his career, Coffey said he has “probably received two or three brutality complaints ... with thousands of arrests.”
“I have never had a brutality complaint substantiated,” Coffey said.
All charges against Miles were dropped Feb. 27. Charles County State’s Attorney Anthony B. Covington said it was due to a lack of evidence.
“We didn’t have enough, in my view,” Covington (D) said. “We had no blood test, no field sobriety test ... and in the video, Miles showed no signs of impairment.”
Covington also said a second doctor’s visit shortly after Miles was released resulted in him being diagnosed with a concussion not found initially. That, Covington said, could explain any symptoms of impairment anyway.
“I’m pretty sure there is not a judge or jury in the state that would vote to convict” based on that evidence, Covington said. Covington also said Miles had asked for his injuries to be photographed at the hospital and was denied the service, which led to his refusal of treatment there.
Speaking through his attorney, Upper Marlboro-based Darrell Robinson, on Saturday, Miles declined to be interviewed by the Independent.
Robinson said they plan to pursue a lawsuit on the basis of excessive force. No papers have yet been filed to that effect.