Officer on trial on charges of assaulting woman

WASHINGTON — Two Prince George’s County police officers on Monday testified against a fellow officer accused of assaulting a homeless woman last year.

Cpl. George Merkel, who has been suspended, is charged with second-degree assault and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years. He’s also charged with misconduct in office.

The incident took place Sept. 22, 2016, while Merkel was responding to a call of a suspicious person in front of a Lanham pawnshop.

Officers Noel Andres and Tawnya Ramirez told Circuit Court Judge Dwight Jackson that they saw Merkel scream profanities at Ruth Waldeab, grab her by the ears to get her to her feet and slap her on the side of the head. One officer testified that Merkel hit  the homeless woman hard enough that she stumbled.

Defense attorney Robert Bonsib says the woman was unresponsive and was not complying with Merkel’s commands to leave the area. He added that Merkel used a minimal level of force, and was not trying to hurt Waldeab but to get her to comply.

But Sgt. William Gleason, a use of force expert for the police department, testified that county officers are not trained to slap a person who is not physically resisting, though an officer can grab someone by the arm to escort them out of an area.

Gleason added that officers do have a level of discretion when it comes to increasing the level of force, depending on what an officer perceives while at a given scene.

Closing arguments are expected Tuesday.

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