BERWYN HEIGHTS – When the shooting stopped, two dogs lay dead. A mayor sat in his boxers, hands bound behind his back. His handcuffed mother-in-law was sprawled on the kitchen floor, lying beside the body of one of the family pets that police had killed before her eyes.
After the raid, Prince George’s County police officials who burst into the home of Berwyn Heights’ mayor last week seized the same unopened package of marijuana that an undercover officer had delivered an hour earlier.
What police left behind was a house stained with blood and a trail of questions about their conduct. No other evidence of illegal activity was found, and no one was arrested at Mayor Cheye Calvo’s home in this small bedroom community near College Park.
This week Prince George’s police arrested two men for orchestrating a plot to deliver marijuana to the addresses of unsuspecting recipients – among them, Calvo’s wife, Trinity Tomsic.
Yet neither county Police Chief Melvin C. High nor Sheriff Michael A. Jackson have apologized to him, his wife or her mother, Georgia Porter, for the raid that traumatized the family and killed their black Labrador retrievers, Payton and Chase.
Yesterday, Calvo called on the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division to investigate the raid and other similar actions by Prince George’s law enforcement. He said officers burst into his house without knocking or announcing themselves, in violation of the warrant they had.
“Trinity was an innocent and random victim of identity theft. Apparently, so were four or five other county residents whose names and addresses were stolen and used as addresses on drug packages,” Calvo said at a news conference outside his house, near a garden of tomatoes and strawberries.
“However, Trinity and our family have not been treated as victims of a crime. Instead, our home was invaded. Our two beloved Labrador retrievers are dead. My mother-in-law and I were tied up for nearly two hours,” he said. “We were harmed by the very people who took an oath to protect us.”
Berwyn Heights police Chief Patrick A. Murphy appeared with the mayor yesterday and said his agency was never informed of the investigation, despite an existing memorandum of understanding to work together on such operations.
He said not knowing about the raid could have led his officers to fire upon the sheriff’s SWAT team because its members were wearing street clothes, masks and carrying weapons as they approached the mayor’s house.
“What about the safety of my officers?” Murphy said. If consulted, he added, “We could have gotten the mayor to put the dogs away and consent to a search.”
Police officials in Arizona first intercepted the package when a drug-sniffing dog alerted them to the presence of marijuana. It was addressed to Tomsic. An undercover officer in Prince George’s delivered the package near 6 p.m. and was told by Calvo’s mother-in-law to leave it on the porch, according to Calvo’s attorney, Timothy Maloney.
Prince George’s County police arrested two men involved in a scheme to transport marijuana. Once packages were dropped off by a deliveryman, a suspect would pick them up – with the addressee oblivious to the plot. Police seized a half-dozen packages that contained about 417 pounds of marijuana, including the 32 pounds delivered to Tomsic, the Associated Press reported.
Last Tuesday, the mayor arrived home from his full-time job as an executive with SEED Foundation, which establishes urban public charter schools. He took the unopened package inside and placed it on a table near the door. He changed clothes and walked the dogs, waving to the men and women sitting in cars near his home. He did not know they were police.
He returned and went upstairs to get dressed for an event. As he changed clothes, SWAT team members darted across the fenced-in lot. Porter, 50, was cooking artichokes in the kitchen and screamed when she saw the approaching masked men with guns.
The door was kicked in and gunshots rang out, Calvo said. Police killed one dog, Payton – named for football running back Walter Payton – even though Porter was standing next to him.
Police have said the dogs “engaged” officers. Calvo confirmed that Payton probably moved toward the door but would have ultimately done nothing more than lick them.
“He was an aggressive licker,” said Calvo.
Cheryl Compton, a neighbor, said her two sons, 5-year-old Cody and 7-year-old Ty, played with the mayor’s dogs all the time, and that everyone but the Prince George’s County police knew where Calvo lived.
“I would have let them stay in a yard by themselves with those dogs,” Compton said. “It really upsets me to think that I don’t feel safe in my home. If they were to shoot our dog, Amber, I would be outraged.”
Chase was shot while running away from sheriff’s deputies, Calvo said.
“He was hunted down and shot in the back while he fled,” he said. “They didn’t deserve to die. They don’t deserve to be blamed for their deaths.”
Calvo, 37, who has been mayor since 2004, was told to walk backward down the stairs with his hands in the air. He was wearing only boxers and socks. Police handcuffed him and placed him in the living room. His mother-in-law was also cuffed and made to lie on the kitchen floor next to Payton’s body.
Police said they were allowed to enter the house without announcing their presence because Porter screamed and because they had a “no-knock” warrant. Calvo and his attorney, Maloney, say that is not true.
When Tomsic arrived home, she said, she thought the house had been robbed and that police had responded with an impressive show of force. But when she saw the blood and learned what had happened to her dogs, she was in shock.
“They were my kids,” said Tomsic, 33, an employee with Maryland’s Department of Human Resources. “All I could see was the blood and the tissue of the dogs.”
Cleaning the blood, which police tracked throughout the house, was the top priority after the police left four hours after the raid, Calvo said.
“The blood was horrendous,” Calvo said. “They had tracked it everywhere.”
The couple bought the corner lot home nearly three years ago and asked Porter to move from Utah to live with them about 13 months ago. On the front fence, supporters have draped an American flag banner that reads, “Cheye & Trinity We Support You.” Dozens of people have written personal messages to the family on the banner.
Robert Kovalchik, a neighbor and Calvo’s high school history teacher at Parkdale High School, said he was shocked that county officials had not apologized.
“This smacks of something from Nazi Germany,” Kovalchik said.
Calvo said he wants federal officials to examine policies that he said have led Prince George’s police officials to serve warrants on wrong addresses and kill family pets before.
In once such case, Prince George’s sheriff’s deputies executed a warrant on the home of Frank and Pamela Myers of Accokeek in November. The Myerses told sheriffs that they had the wrong address as their dog began barking from the yard. The couple asked if they could retrieve their dog, but deputies refused. Minutes later, two shots were fired and the dog was killed, according to a notice of a tort claims filed by attorney Michael J. Winkelman. The Myerses were never charged and nothing was seized from their house.
“This has happened before, and without oversight, it will happen again,” Calvo said.
Doug Donovan, The Baltimore Sun, August 8, 2008, “Prince George’s raid prompts call for probe”, https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-2008-08-08-0808070248-story.html