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Stephanie Mohr - Innocent Victim, or Sadistic Nutcase?

By Jim Parker
© Copyright May, 2005

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As someone who deals in Internet related fraud, I see my fair share of 'bleeding heart' letters attempting to convince people to part with their hard earned money - everything from sob stories from the families of dead Nigerian oil barons wanting to share their millions, to personal letters from the widow of Pope John Paul II (who also apparently squirreled away a fortune).

One particular letter which is currently appearing in people's in boxes caught my eye. It tells the heart-wrenching story of Stephanie Mohr, a former Prince George's County, Maryland Police Officer and K9 Dog Handler, who was unjustly sent to federal prison for 10 years for "doing her job".

The letter [1] goes on to explain:

Back in 1995, at a time when there were a lot of burglaries in my county, my partner and I were called to assist when two men, Jorge Cruz and Ricardo Mendez, burglary suspects, were spotted on a rooftop.

When Mendez made a run for it, I released Valk, to stop this dangerous suspect just as I'd been taught -- with a procedure called "bite and hold".

Valk did his job. Mendez was treated and released at the hospital. Both men were charged with breaking and entering . . .

The letter culminates in a plea by Mohr to send money to help with her appeal to the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund (LELDF).

Why would this poor woman be thrown in federal prison for 10 years for simply fulfilling the duty she was charged with - to protect the people of her community from "dangerous criminals", such as Ricardo Mendez? It certainly seemed like a worthy cause -- but something about this letter just didn't pass the sniff test, in fact, it didn't even pass the gag test; I could smell the bullshit right through my computer screen, but rather than simply dismiss it, I decided to conduct a little research of my own.

Historically, this is a genuine case, and certainly has an element of truth to it. In August, 2001, Stephanie Mohr was indeed sentenced to 10 years in federal prison because her police dog bit a burglary suspect back in 1995, while performing her duties as a Prince George's County Police Officer. But there's a little more to the story than what Mohr and the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund (LELDF) would have you believe.

What Stephanie Mohr conveniently neglects to mention, is that the evidence against her was overwhelming, and included direct testimony from four fellow officers who were present at the scene, that the "fleeing suspect" wasn't fleeing at all, and was in fact, simply standing facing the officers with his hands in the air the entire time. Furthermore, the witnesses, including Mohr's superior officer, Sergeant Dennis Bonn, testified that the Mendez:

  • made no sudden movements
  • obeyed all law enforcement commands
  • did not lower his hands
  • did not attempt to flee in any way

According to the eye-witness testimony of Mohr's fellow officers, Mohr asked Sergeant Bonn if the dog could "have a bite", to which the Sergeant replied "yes". After what was described as a "very, very brief exchange", Mohr released her dog on the suspect without warning and for no apparent reason. The dog attacked Mendez who, according to Sergeant Bonn's testimony, "still had his hands in the air when . . . the dog bit him in the leg. [He] went down screaming and continued to scream."

As a result of the incident, Sergeant Bonn pled guilty as an accessory-after-the-fact to a civil rights violation and testified for the government pursuant to a plea agreement. Mohr was found guilty of violating 18 USC §242 (Depravation of rights under color of law, resulting in bodily injury), and sentenced to the maximum penalty allowed of 120 months in federal prison. She appealed, but the appellate judges had little sense of humor regarding Mohr's actions and dismissed all points of her appeal; they concluded:

"This charged, notorious, highly publicized case requiring two full trials demanded good judgment and a steady hand from the district court. Our careful consideration of both the record and Mohr’s appellate arguments persuade us that Mohr received precisely that. The judgment of the district court is in all respects AFFIRMED."

You can read the Appeals court discussion of the case and final decision by clicking the link below:

Mohr Appeals Court Decision [2]

Sergeant Bonn's testimony, and the testimony of the other officers who corroborated his version of the events certainly paints a dramatically different picture than what poor Stephanie Mohr portrayed in her letter. My sympathy was quickly dwindling.

What is also absent from the story is that Mohr not only has an apparent history of acts involving racial discrimination, but that she has also been involved in other incidents accusing her of intentional misuse of her dog, including releasing it on a 16 year old African-American, Kheenan Sneed, who was doing nothing more threatening than sleeping on his neighbors hammock at the time. According to a lawsuit filed in Prince George's County Circuit Court, Mohr allegedly beat Sneed about the head with her flashlight while the dog continued to bite him on the leg. Mohr claimed she had mistaken the 16 year old boy for a man who had tried to break into a nearby store.

In a later incident, Mohr allegedly threatened to release her dog on another woman's "black ass" if she lied about the whereabouts of the woman's fugitive brother.

As an interesting side note, the Prince George's County K9 unit came under federal investigation in 1999 when internal police records revealed that dogs handled by eight canine squad members had bitten 60 civilians in an 11-month period in 1998, an excessively high number in comparison to other K9 units. For example, in neighboring Montgomery County, dogs handled by 13 officers bit people only 30 times in the same time period.

However, more recent court records submitted during the numerous lawsuits filed against Prince George's County for excessive force involving their K9 Unit indicate that actual number may be much higher - as many as 100 people a year, including innocent bystanders, and even their own handlers.

While such frighteningly high figures suggest inadequate training for both Prince George's County K9 dogs and their handlers, it's important to note that at no time did Mohr state that her dog was out of control. In fact, in her own testimony, she acknowledged that she intentionally released the dog on Mendez, who according to all reports was "doing nothing" except standing facing he officers with his hands in the air.

Additionally, in Mohr's 'oh woe is me' letter, she claims that "Mendez made a run for it . . . I released Valk, to stop this dangerous suspect ", but her own testimony conflicts with that, and instead, she states that she observed Mendez "turn his body and his feet to the left and make a movement to the left, [and] as soon as [she] saw him do that, it meant to [her] that he was going to run to the left" and "attempt to flee." In other words, no matter how you look at it, Mohr wasn't dealing with a fleeing suspect. Even if her version of events during testimony were true, the best she had was a suspicion that Mendez might make a "run for it".

What little sympathy I had left for this woman was concentrated on the opening lines of Mohr's letter: "It's cold in here", she writes solemnly. "And I'm not sure if my hands are shaking from cold, from fear... Or because I'm about to cry -- again." Cynical though I am, I couldn't help but feel just a little compassion for this 34 year old mother, alone and frightened in a cold, dark dungeon surrounded by steel bars and hardened, dangerous criminals. That was, until I discovered exactly where Mohr was incarcerated.

Stephanie Mohr is currently being held at the federal prison camp in Alderson, West Virginia, better known as "Club Fed" or "Camp Cupcake". Alderson is a minimum security unit where white collar female criminals pay their debt to society with minimal discomfort. Rather than cell blocks, the Alderson prison has cottages; there are no bars, no cells, and no lockdowns at night time. For six months Alderson was home to the infamous Martha Stewart. Let's hope their time together was spent learning how to construct an attractive, yet effective muzzle out of a plastic coat hanger and a pair of Martha's old knickers.

If, after reading this article, you still have some uncontrollable compulsion to send this woman some of your hard earned cash, the LELDF may not the best way to go.

What's important to note, is that Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund is a 501(c)(3) [charitable] organization, which means their tax returns are public record. According to one report, in the year 2000, LELDF received $2.42 million in charitable contributions, yet only $182,353 of that went towards the defense of Law Enforcement Officers. The other $2.2 million went on marketing, administration, and into the LELDF management's pockets.

A recent survey by the Oregon Department of Justice suggests that only 13.9% of funds received by LELDF actually went towards any of their defense programs. So if you sent them $20, only around $2.50 would actually go towards Mohr and other Law Enforcement defense funds, so if she's lucky, Mohr would likely see about $0.10 of your 20 bucks, if that.

As for me, having my own large dog, I'm going to keep my money, and spend it on huge bone to keep him happy. I'd certainly rather those massive canines were stuck into part of a dead cow's thigh, than mine.

Attachments included in this article:

  1. Letter from Stephanie Mohr (PDF - 54kb)
  2. US District Court (4th Circuit) Appeals Decision (PDF - 92kb)

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