WASHINGTON — Two Prince George’s County police officers are facing charges for two separate incidents that the state’s attorney says “[betray] the public’s trust.”
On Thursday, a grand jury indicted both Officer William Diaz and County Police Corporal George Merkel.
Diaz was assigned to a task force that primarily handled prostitution and other offenses and on multiple occasions, he would warn a prostitute where it was conducting operations, allowing her to avoid arrest, said Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks in a news release. Also, investigators found that at least two times, Diaz solicited a prostitute for sex while he was on duty.
Diaz, who joined the force in 2008, was indicted on a charge of misconduct in office, obstructing and hindering a police investigation. Diaz was suspended in April 2016.
Merkel, who has been with the department for about 14 years, was indicted on charges that he assaulted a homeless woman in Lanham, Maryland, on Sept. 22, 2016.
Merkel was on a routine patrol when he saw a homeless woman, reported it to dispatch and approached her on foot. Two other responding officers reported they saw Merkel yelling and shouting expletives at the woman, lift her to her feet by her ears and hit her on the head with an open hand, the state’s attorney said in a news release.
The department suspended Merkel in October 2016.
“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,” Alsobrooks said in a news release.
Both of the cases were brought to the State’s Attorney’s Office by county police to determine if criminal charges were warranted — an action Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski commended.
“I respect the courage of the officers who took responsibility for bringing these issues to the attention of the department,”Stawinski said in a news release. “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.”
Prince George’s County Police Department has recently been the subject of scrutiny. In an October complaint sent to the Department of Justice, a group of minority officers claimed “rampant discrimination” inside the police department.