A female police officer sent to jail for ten years for police brutality has spoken out about what she claims is her unjust conviction, and what it means to have missed her son’s childhood.
Former police officer Stephanie Mohr was convicted of deprivation of civil rights in 2001, according to the Daily Mail, after an incident in which she set her police dog on a homeless man in Washington D.C. who was a suspect in a burglary. The end result of that encounter was a torn muscle in the man’s leg.
He has has since been deported, as he was in the U.S. illegally.
But because of her decision to unleash her canine, Mohr ended up serving eight-and-a-half years of a ten year sentence. As Mohr was in federal prison, there was no parole option and she served 85% of her sentence.
She appealed her conviction and has always maintained her innocence. The politics surrounding the incident and subsequent trial clearly raise some issues of fairness.
Could this cop have been railroaded at the start of her career because of anti-police politics? Let’s look at the facts.
In 1995, Mohr was part of Prince George County K-9 unit after becoming a police officer two years earlier, WTTG-TV reported. Then one day, suspects were spotted on the roof of a building in an area of Takoma Park, Maryland that had suffered from a rash of burglaries.
Mohr was called in as backup and officers surrounded the building while two suspects climbed down from the roof. Accounts differ as to what happened then, but Mohr claims:
“We were issuing them commands to stop and show their hands and to get on the ground. One of them made a move to go down an alleyway that was not covered and at that point, I committed the dog.”
WTTG-TV has an overview of the case and an emotional post-release interview with Mohr below:
There were no major injuries to the suspect, but the case against Mohr was left open. In fact, it was not until the day before the statute of limitations would have expired that official charges were filed against Mohr.
Given the lack of serious harm or death in the case, the motivation to bring charges appears suspicious. To put it in context, WTTG-TV reports that during this period, the Prince George’s County Police Department was in turmoil:
“Citizen complaints and a string of media reports prompted a federal investigation of excessive force by officers. But the investigation yielded no major convictions. Then on September 20, 1995, one day before the statue of limitations was set to expire, Mohr was charged with deprivation of civil rights under color of law, a federal charge in police brutality cases.”
The politics don’t appear to end there. Mohr was acquitted on one charge during her first trial in February 2001, but the jury hung on the remaining charge. Despite this result, and the lack of serious injury to the suspect/victim, federal prosecutors decided to try her again.
In August of that same year, she was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in federal prison under then-mandatory sentencing guidelines.
Mohr said the moment she was sentenced, her thoughts went to her young son, Adam.
Over the next decade, Mohr got to know her son from photos taken in an outside prison yard. An adult would drive him over five hours to visit his mom in a West Virginia federal prison once or twice a month.
The man who helped send her there — Steven Dettlebach — is now the U.S. Attorney for northern Ohio. He stands behind the 8 1/2 year conviction of Mohr.
“In this case, you had a situation where two homeless Hispanic men were surrounded by police officers, who in a willful and wanton way, decided to attack them,” Dettlebach says.
The former AUSA added that “the case is a tragedy all around. But to think that the jury rendered the right verdict, that the judge made the right determination, and that the fourth circuit sitting in Richmond made the right determination in the case? I do.”
Mohr rejects that claim and adamantly stands her ground. Having already served her sentence, it’s now a matter of principle. There is no way she can get back nearly a decade lost with her son.
“The federal government was desperate to make a case against a Prince George’s County Police officer,” Mohr told WTTG-TV. “After years and years of investigating, the only person they were able to indict and try was me.”
“I did what I was told to do. I did what I was trained to do. I did what I was expected to do,” Mohr insists.
Today, Mohr wants to focus on her home life, and spending time with her son.
“I’d like to go on a vacation with my son,” she says. “I’d like to help him with his homework. I’d like to go to his sporting events and be the loudest and craziest mom in the stands.”