Stephanie Mohr was a rookie police officer in Prince George’s County in 1995. A member of the canine unit, she and the dog she worked with responded to a call in an area plagued by burglaries. Another officer had spotted two suspects on the roof of a store.*
Mohr released her dog on one of the suspects, Ricardo Mendez, an illegal immigrant who subsequently would be convicted on federal narcotics charges. There was conflicting testimony as to why.
According to one version, Mohr released the dog after her training officer sought and obtained consent from the officer in charge of the scene. According to the other version, Mohr’s, she did so on her own because Mendez ignored repeated instructions to follow police orders.
Five years after this incident, the Washington Post ran a series of articles alleging police brutality in Prince George’s County. In the meantime, Mohr had become something of a star in the canine unit. She earned two awards for meritorious service and 25 letters of commendation. Her superiors lauded her assistance in bringing down burglary and homicide suspects. She helped provide personal security at President Clinton’s second inaugural gala.
However, as a result of the Post’s series, the FBI launched an investigation that soon focused on the canine unit. The investigation led to an indictment of Mohr on federal civil rights grounds for the 1995 incident. She was charged one day before the statute of limitations on her alleged offenses expired.
Mohr pleaded not guilty. The officer in charge of the scene pleaded guilty and testified on behalf of the government at Mohr’s trials. Her training officer pleaded not guilty and was acquitted.
At the first trial, Mohr was acquitted on a “conspiracy” charge and nearly acquitted on the civil rights count. Reportedly, only one juror held out for a conviction.
Normally that outcome would have ended the matter. However, the government elected to retry Mohr.
At the second trial, the government was allowed to put on evidence of other alleged misdeeds by Mohr. One witness, an African-American, testified that Mohr had threatened to release her dog on her “black ass.”
Thanks, presumably, to prejudicial testimony like this, the jury this time convicted Mohr.
Mohr received the maximum sentence of ten years. This, despite the fact that the dog bite required only ten stitches. A year in prison per stich, as it turned out.
Mohr served her sentence. After that, she went on to full-time employment as a county building inspector and has led a stable life.
I understand that her son, who was less than three years old when Mohr went to prison, now plans to become a law enforcement officer, notwithstanding the thanklessness, these days, of the job and the treatment of his mother.
Backed by the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund and the National Fraternal Order of the Police, Mohr seeks a pardon from President Trump. A Washington Times op-ed by the head of the first of these organizations makes the case.
Pardons should not be granted lightly. Generally, they require a thorough review of the facts and the equities.
In this case, from what I know, the facts and equities favor a pardon. First, Mohr’s guilt was always in doubt, as the outcome of the first trial suggests.
Second, Mohr served far more time than she deserved even if guilty. A ten year sentence for a dog bite was wildly disproportionate to any offense.
Third, Mohr was a highly commended member of the police force before her conviction.
Fourth, her prosecution stemmed directly from a sensationalized Washington Post series. The frenzy that followed apparently failed to produce any convictions other than those stemming from this one incident.
Fifth, Mohr’s post-conviction conduct, including the productive life she has led since her release from prison, speaks in her favor.
I hope President Trump will give serious consideration to pardoning Stephanie Mohr. If he does, I believe he will agree that she deserves a pardon.
* The statements of fact set forth in this post come from (1) the Court of Appeals decision upholding Mohr’s conviction, (2) a letter from the National Fraternal Order of Police to President Trump, and (3) the Washington Times editorial cited above.