Prosecutors Face ‘Challenges’ Without Arresting Officers

OCEAN CITY — More than two months after the tragic June 30 plane crash claimed the lives of two off-duty Ocean City Police officers, many of the cases in which the victims were the arresting officers are now starting to hit the court system, creating some challenges for prosecutors, but a greater challenge for the State’s Attorney’s Office is the large number of arrests made throughout the summer by seasonal officers that will come to trial in the coming weeks and months.
On Sunday, June 30, a small Nanchang CJ-6A plane piloted by OCPD Officer Tom Geoghegan with Pfc. Joshua Adickes on board tragically crashed into the ocean just off the beach at 130th Street, claiming the lives of the two officers. Two months later, many of the cases in which the two late officers were the primary arresting officers are starting to hit the court system, creating some challenges for the State’s Attorney’s Office and its team of prosecutors.
Arresting officers typically appear as the primary witnesses in criminal trials, particularly at the District Court level. While official statements of charges and narratives of the events leading to arrests are available, in many cases the testimony of the arresting officers is a key component in gaining convictions. The two fallen OCPD officers have a combined 30 active criminal cases now starting to hit the court system, presenting some stumbling blocks for prosecutors. Adickes has 18 active criminal cases in which he was the arresting officer, while Geoghegan has 12.
“It certainly creates some challenges,” said Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby last week. “Josh and Tommy were two very competent and hard-charging officers and they had a lot of cases. Arresting officers are the primary witnesses in many criminal cases.”
Absent first-hand witness testimony, prosecutors will rely heavily on statements of charges and written narratives of the events leading to an arrest. In many cases, the evidence will be sufficient to gain convictions, or in the alternative, plea agreements, but in others, the State’s Attorney’s Office will be forced to simply let them go untried.
“In some cases, they are absolutely essential,” said Oglesby. “We’ll try to resolve them the best we can under the circumstances. If we can proceed without them, we will do so. In some cases, we’ll have to simply dismiss them. This tragedy will have implications in some cases that we simply can’t overcome.”
While the tragic plane crash that claimed the two prolific OCPD officers certainly is producing unique circumstances, handling heavy caseloads without the benefit of the presence of the arresting officers is a situation the State’s Attorney’s Office is not used to dealing with. Because of the large number of seasonal officers Ocean City hires each summer, many of them are long gone before their cases hit the court system.
“In our jurisdiction, specifically Ocean City, we have a tremendous number of seasonal police officers and many of them have traveled far and wide before their cases come to trial,” said Oglesby. “It’s something we deal with every year and it does create challenges sometimes.”
Oglesby said many of the seasonal officers go back to school or back to where they are from at the end of the summer when their deployments are over. In one example he cited, a seasonal officer who returns to Tennessee. He said it is often at great expense and larger inconvenience to bring them back for trials, especially at the District Court level.
“The very best seasonals make a lot of arrests and a large part of our job is managing our caseload to get the best result we can,” he said. “We try to work with the District Court to schedule cases with the same arresting officer on the same day, but that’s not always practical. Sometimes, the stars don’t line up just right and you have to let some cases go.”
Fortunately, many of the more serious cases are handled by veteran officers and the seasonal officer issue does not come into play. In some cases, an incident might begin with a seasonal officer making a routine arrest, but veteran leadership steps in and takes over when it becomes more serious.
“The OCPD is very smart in terms of getting the right people involved early on in serious cases and most felonies,” said Oglesby. “When a case evolves into something beyond the capacity or experience of a seasonal officer, veteran officers will step in and take over in a lot of cases.”
A change in the law in Maryland this year allows law enforcement officers in Ocean City and around the state to issue criminal citations for many lower level misdemeanors such as simple possession, for example, but the long-term effects of the change are still uncertain in terms of court caseloads and officer appearances. The intent is to streamline the booking process and get officers quickly back on the street, but the defendants in most cases still face the same court processes down the road as if they had been arrested and booked. Oglesby said this week the jury is still out, so to speak, on the impact of the change.
“The citations have created a new issue and it creates a different burden on the District Court to put the information into the system,” he said. “At this point, it’s uncertain what the fall out of that will be, but we’re monitoring it closely.”