Trial begins for Md. firefighters charged with assaulting peers

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — Years of competitive tension between career and volunteer firefighters in Prince George’s County provide a backdrop for a trial now underway.

Capt. Christopher Kelly and Jeffrey Miller — firefighters for West Lanham Hills Volunteer Company 28 — are charged with second-degree assault, interfering with a firefighter and misconduct in office.

The charges stem from an incident in which both Volunteer Company 28 and Career Company 30 responded to a house fire on Dec. 8, 2015.

Three witnesses who took the stand Tuesday were the three career firefighters who responded to the house fire on 75th Avenue in Hyattsville.

Defense attorneys Ann Koshy and Brian Bregman attempted to discredit the testimony of Prince George’s County firefighter medic Samantha Satterfield, who described being blocked from entering the home by Kelly.

They pointed out inconsistencies with testimony Satterfield provided in the courtroom versus a written statement submitted for a Fire Department internal investigation.

Satterfield stated in 2015 that she saw Kelly “forcibly remove” Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Lt. Katherine Johnson from the home’s porch. In court, Satterfield stated that it was hazy and dark and that there was a lot going on. She only clearly recalled seeing her colleague getting off the ground.

Satterfield also was questioned at length about multiple versions of the statement she revised before a final document was submitted to officials. Satterfield admitted getting advice from Johnson and her captain about wording. Changes included, for example, the word “pushing” being replaced with “shoving.”

Satterfield sustained no injuries in the encounter, she said.

Johnson described being struck “two or three” times on the chest by Kelly. A picture depicting red bruising on Johnson’s chest was submitted as evidence.

A third career firefighter on the scene that day stated he didn’t recall what happened. But prosecutor Renee Joy submitted into evidence an email from the firefighter sent to his union representative after the incident.

The email stated Johnson was thrown off the porch while grabbing the doorframe and hand railing trying to “hold on for dear life.” It detailed how he angrily told Miller that what Miller and his crew did was wrong. The encounter with Johnson shouldn’t have happened, in his words, “to a girl, much less an officer.”

Testimony from Satterfield and Johnson describe Miller arriving to the fire scene in plain clothes, grabbing Johnson’s air tank from behind while attempting to pull her away from the home’s porch.

The prosecutor’s case thus far has detailed a number of procedural protocols allegedly violated by the volunteers that day, and Joy has not yet rested her case. The defense is expected to question Johnson Wednesday.

The trial is expected to last into Thursday.

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