A Harford County Sheriff’s Office deputy pleaded guilty Tuesday to one misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment for firing his service weapon twice at a fleeing vehicle following an altercation last spring.
Deputy First Class Christopher Michael Behles, an eight-year veteran of the agency at the time of the April 8, 2013 incident, agreed to a five-year suspended sentence, two years of probation, a $2,000 fine, $625 in court costs, mandated anger management counseling, and 500 hours of community service. He initially faced felony counts of first and second degree assault.
The version of events outlined in a statement of facts, submitted as part of the plea deal, differed from the Harford County Sheriff’s Office’s initial claim that Behles was caught up in the fleeing vehicle’s movements and fired in fear for his life. In the court document, prosecutors state that Behles was not in any danger at the time he fired his weapon, and “did not fire in self-defense.”
Agency spokesman Edward Hopkins declined comment on the case or Behles’ employment status Tuesday.
According to the statement of facts, Behles was in plain clothes and off duty at approximately 4:55 p.m. on April 8, 2013 and was traveling westbound on Norrisville Road near Whitehall Road in an unmarked patrol vehicle. Behles slowed his vehicle to allow a car in front of him to make a turn, and was struck from behind by a black Toyota 4Runner driven by William Redding Harvey V of Jarrettsville.
Two witnesses were present in the two cars behind Harvey’s vehicle; one of them was Harvey’s wife, who along with their child was following Behles home and was positioned directly behind Harvey’s car. The witnesses told prosecutors that Behles approached Harvey and identified himself as a Sheriff’s Office deputy. According to the statement of facts, the witnesses said Behles began arguing with Harvey and told him he was under arrest, before opening the driver’s side door and ordering him out of the car.
When Harvey refused, witnesses said Behles attempted to physically remove Harvey from his car, but could not. According to the statement of facts, Harvey began to drive around Behles’ patrol vehicle as the deputy continued to attempt to remove him from the car. The witnesses stated that Behles disengaged from Harvey’s vehicle and fired twice as it fled the scene; one witness estimated that Harvey’s vehicle was 15 to 20 yards away from Behles and accelerating when the deputy fired.
At the time of the incident, the Sheriff’s Office said only that Behles “became caught up in the vehicle’s movements” as Harvey continued to pull away and, in fear of being seriously injured or killed, “fired his service weapon in an attempt to stop the threat.”
Behles then pursued Harvey’s vehicle west on Norrisville Road and west on Route 439. Entering Baltimore County, Harvey attempted to make a turn on a side street, but lost control and rolled his vehicle. Harvey escaped the wreck and continued to flee on foot, but was apprehended by Behles as backup units arrived. Both men were taken to area hospitals with minor injuries.
Harvey was arrested and charged with second degree assault, resisting arrest, obstruction and hindering and failure to obey a lawful order of a police officer; he also faces additional traffic charges, and was released on $3,000 bail.
Behles was initially charged in Harford County District Court with a single misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment. Following a brief hearing in July, Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly brought the case before a grand jury, which indicted Behles on the two felony counts in addition to the misdemeanor charge.
Behles was suspended with pay from his duties with the Sheriff’s Office when he was first charged due to the charge against him being a misdemeanor, according to Hopkins. Hopkins said that deputies who are charged with a felony can be, but are not required to be, suspended without pay. It is unclear whether Behles remained on paid leave following the July indictment; Hopkins declined comment on the matter Tuesday.
The plea hearing before Judge Stephen Waldron came ahead of a scheduled April 10 jury trial in the case.