Officer Ala resigns, vigil for victims

IMAGE: Vigil attendees included Badders’ grandchild Aliyah, Arianna Woodley, second from left and Megan Bryant on right. Photo by Megan Ginder.

BY BILL BROWN

A swerve to the left instead of the right, a stomp on the brakes or simply more attentive driving, might have prevented three tragic deaths. And why was a Takoma Park police officer accused of a road-rage incident allowed to drive a city vehicle when off-duty? Why is he only being charged with traffic violations?

That’s what the victim’s family and friends want to know. They put their questions and thoughts on signs carried at a vigil last Saturday, April 16 at the Takoma Park Memorial Park and Community Center.

At the blossom-filled war memorial park they gathered, sang, and listened to Katherine Badders, the mother of one victim and wife of another, talk about her loss and how the deaths might have been avoided if stricter actions had been taken by the city of Takoma Park.

Off-duty Takoma Park police officer Travis M. Ala, driving approximately 60 miles per hour on March 21, 2015, crashed a city-owned car into the rear of a stopped vehicle, killing its three occupants.

Raymond Badders, 63, of Manchester, Md., died at the scene of the collision in Anne Arundel County. His daughter Susannah Badders, 19, and her friend Jason Simpkins, 19, of Ellicott City, Md., died the next day at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

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The March 21, 2015, car crash in which three died. Photo ©2015 Glenn A. Miller.

Despite the clear day and fair weather, Ala apparently failed to see stopped cars ahead of him on state highway Route 50. Traffic was at a stand-still, due to an accident farther down the road. Ava swerved to avoid the car directly in front of him, instead crashing into the Badders’ vehicle. Attorney Richard L. Gershberg, who represents the victims’ families, said that the state police investigation found no evidence that Ala applied the brakes before the collision.

“What the hell was he doing?” asked Gershberg.

A claim that Ala’s brake pedal was blocked by a rolling water bottle was not borne out by the investigation, said Gershberg.

Toxiology tests for the presence of drugs or alcohol were conducted on the victims, but not on Ala, said Gershberg, a point that distresses Katherine Badders.

“If I had killed three police officers,” she said, “I would have been tested, and maybe charged.”

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His grandchild holds photo of Raymond Badders. Photo by Megan Ginder.

Also distressing to Badders is the fact that Ala was allowed to drive a police vehicle, with weapons, following an alleged road rage incident in which Ala allegedly brandished his gun.

Ala was also off-duty during that July 6, 2014, incident, and was driving the same state highway Route 50. The Prince George’s County office of the State’s Attorney later indicted him on charges of first and second degree assault and use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence. Allegedly, Ala encountered a slow-moving car in the left hand lane, passed it, pulled in front of it and slammed on his brakes. The vehicle moved to the center lane. Ala allegedly proceeded to get behind it and follow closely.

A witness alleged that Ala pulled out a black handgun and pointed it at the vehicle. According to the state’s attorney the victims stopped their vehicle on the shoulder and Ala pulled in behind them. When he realized they were attempting to take photos of him, he drove away. Police traced him by his license plate number.

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Vigil in front of the Takoma Park Community Center, where the city police department is located. Photo by Megan Ginder.

Badders was stunned when, three months after the fatal accident, she learned of this prior road-rage incident. “What was he doing in a police car…with weapons?” she asked.

Ala had the legal right, despite any misgivings the city may have had. The Takoma Park police followed correct procedure within the limits of the law, said chief Alan Goldberg. Like everyone else, a police officer has to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

By the Maryland Law Enforcement Bill of Rights officer Ala could not be suspended unless he was under a felony charge, which he was not at the time of the accident.

When the law allowed, he was placed on suspension from the Takoma Park police force. Nearly a year passed following the road-rage incident in which he was not charged. In fact, the statute of limitations was nearly up when on June 30, 2015, a felony charge was formally brought. He was suspended without pay at that point.

When he resigned April 8 from the Takoma Park police force he was on suspension with pay.

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Derek Miller. Photo by Megan Ginder.

Both the accident and the road-rage case did not occur in the city. Outside law enforcement and legal agencies—the state police and Prince George’s and Anne Arundel county court systems—handled them. The only role of the city would have been to initiate an administrative investigation into a collision involving a city vehicle. But, that investigation would be suspended if charges are placed until the court resolution.

More recently, Badders was stunned when Ala’s road-rage case was dismissed on a technicality.

The indictment was made in Prince George’s County, where the incident concluded and was reported. However, most of the event, including the alleged brandishing of a gun, occurred in Anne Arundel County. So, the indictment was dismissed on March 14, 2016, for “Lack of Proper Venue,” according to Prince George’s county circuit court records.

The dropped charges in that case came a few months after an Anne Arundel County grand jury chose not to indict Ala for the fatal accident. The jury decided in November, 2015 that there was no evidence of gross negligence—such as driving over the speed limit—or malicious intent, that would trigger a felony charge. Gerchberg said the grand jury was not told that Ala was a police officer.

“The Maryland State Police will issue Mr. Ala with the traffic citations for misconduct, including reckless driving, negligent driving, failing to control speed to avoid a collision, and driver changing lanes when unsafe,” said Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Wes Adams in a statement reported in the  Dec. 4, 2015, Capitol Gazette.

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Arianna Woodley and Katherine Badders with a Badders grandchild. Photo by Megan Ginder.

According to Badders, these traffic citations have fines no higher than $500. “There has to be another layer of punishment,” she said, “there has to be something greater than a ticket. Justice must be seen to be done.”

It may be too late for the Badders and Simpkins families, she said, but for the sake of other families, “maybe they need to tighten up the statutes.”

Ms Badders felt the Saturday vigil got results. She thought it spurred Ala’s April 8 resignation and the city manager’s statement of condolence released the same day as the vigil.


Takoma Park City Manager’s statement

April 16, 2016

The City of Takoma Park and the Takoma Park Police Department extend their deep sympathies to the families of Susannah and Ray Badders and Jason Simpkins as they remember their loved ones a little over a year after their deaths.

The person responsible for the accident, Travis Ala, was an off-duty Takoma Park police officer at the time. The accident occurred in Anne Arundel County. The accident was investigated by the Maryland State Police and the case was turned over to the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Office and Grand Jury. The Grand Jury determined that there was no gross negligence involved in the accident. Traffic citations were issued.

Other than the fact that Mr. Ala was an off-duty Takoma Park police officer driving a take-home Takoma Park police vehicle at the time of the accident, the City of Takoma Park was not involved in any aspect of the accident or in the investigation of the accident. Mr. Ala no longer works for the City of Takoma Park.

The City of Takoma Park monitors incidents involving our police officers both on and off duty, such as reports of unsafe actions or unprofessional behavior, and provides training or takes disciplinary actions if warranted. We also adhere to all appropriate personnel laws and procedures.

We understand that none of this helps the families and friends of Susannah and Ray Badders and Jason Simpkins feel any better. Again, we extend our deep sympathies to the Badders and Simpkins families.

Media Specialist Craig Terrill
City Manager Suzanne Ludlow
Chief of Police Alan Goldberg


 

A civil suit is likely to be filed against the city by the accident victims’ families. State law has “serious limitations” on the amount of damages in such suits, said attorney Gershberg.

The vigil was joined by a couple of Takoma Park residents. One of them was Elizabeth Wallace. She’s been following this and other city police issues.

“It’s not just Ala, it’s Milton Flores [arrested for assaulting a D.C. police officer last February] as well, and whether or not we really have the proper, objective personnel procedures in place,” she said.

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Megan Ginder, Clara McNemar. Photo Megan Ginder.

Under the Officer’s Bill of Rights, a police officer charged with a misdemeanor can be suspended with pay or have duties restricted. If convicted of a misdemeanor, an officer has a right to a hearing.

An officer convicted of a violent crime of assault would not be allowed to carry a firearm, rendering the officer unable to perform normal police duties.

A officer charged with a felony can be suspended without pay, as Ala was when indicted in the road-rage case. If convicted of a felony an officer has no right to an administrative hearing.

Travis M. Ala joined the Takoma Park Police Dept. in January 2012 after serving four years on the Annapolis Police Department. He was assigned as a detective with Takoma Park’s Special Assignment Team. In 2012 he was voted Officer of the Year following one of the city’s largest marijuana arrests. Prior to becoming a police officer, he served in the United States Marine Corps.

About the Author

Bill Brown
Bill Brown moved to Takoma Park in 1982. He has been involved in journalism in one way or another since he co-published an underground high-school newspaper in the late 1960s.

6 Comments on "Officer Ala resigns, vigil for victims"

  1. Ashley Denise | April 22, 2016 at 3:52 pm |

    This is wonderful news – but his case hopefully will still be heard and tried in Ann Arundel for the the road rage incident – my thoughts and prayers for the families that lost loved ones because Alas driving. He should have been charged. Keep your eyes in the news for the road rage case. Prayers

  2. Elizabeth Wallace | April 23, 2016 at 12:19 am |

    I was told of the vigil by another Takoma Park resident who happened to see it in the park. Since he knew I’d been following these cases, and attended Ala’s hearing in PG County for change of venue, he texted me right away and I met the family and friends for the first time.

    Glad I could be of help in providing Takoma Voice with the contact information for phone interviews with Attorney Richard L. Gershberg and Katherine Badders. Thank you for getting the details on the police procedures, however, if I were in the position of the police chief, I would have suspended use of any Takoma Park vehicle by Ala until the road rage case had been closed and even then it depends on what else was in his personnel file.

    Re the road rage case, specifically, the charges were:
    Counts:(1) Assault-First Degree, (2) Assault-Second Degree, (3) Use Of Firearm In A Crime Of Violence, (4) Assault-First Degree,(5) Assault-Second Degree, (6) use Of Firearm In A Crime Of Violence, Fld, 610

    I was shocked and disappointed when the judge, over an hour of deliberation in her chambers, decided to dismiss it. Regrettably, the prosecution, in my opinion, failed to properly prepare their witness, the young female teen, a VA resident, who was in the back seat of the car returning from Ocean City with her family. She didn’t even look 16. Anyway, she did not testify well on the stand and failed to counter Ala’s testimony. The judge even gave Ala more credit for his because as a police officer and resident of the area he would be more aware of the county line. Yes, and as a Takoma Park police officer who deals with burglars who sprint out of TP to PG or DC, I’m sure he did.

    And other “things that make me go, hmmmmm….”
    – Why wasn’t Ala’s gun secured? Are our other officers lax as well? Remember Chief Goldberg’s upset on FB at being denied entry to IKEA as weapons are not allowed.
    – What did the “weeks of suspension with pay” and benefits, and car, and commuting gas cost the TP taxpayers?
    – Who were the other 2 people in Ala’s car? His wife who is also on the force?
    – Why no toxicology report? Or was he impaired for another reason? Having an argument or too much fun in the car with the passengers? Talking or texting on his cell phone? Have the phone company records been requested? Or was he tired from working a 12 hour shift plus 1+ hr commute for too many days in a row. Was the car actually taken out in his name or someone else and he was driving?

    And I find this interesting: from the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County – Criminal System
    Case Number:CT150757X
    Order of court dated 1-4-15, Judge Martin; Ordered, that the City of Takoma Park Police Department’s Motion to Quash Subpoena be and the same hereby is Denied; What was in those records? Yes, I know. Rhetorical question.

    Even more questions come to mind:
    – Shouldn’t the council take a closer look at the use of city vehicles for commuting and the related costs?
    One resident told me he saw one in VA near the NC border once.
    – Are the replacement vehicles in our proposed budget required due to accidents? or normal wear and tear? – – Have our insurance rates increased? Are officers/employees required to at least pay the deductible, if applicable, when having an accident while off-duty? Perhaps not required by their contract, but, dare I ask, by a sense of responsibility?
    – How many cars have been in accidents and possibly totaled in the last year? 1/ at Philly and Holly 2/ Ala 3/ the recent pursuit in eastern TP, etc. More?

    I’d like to see an itemized report of accidents, who was involved, costs to city, and how many that officer has had during his/her time on the force.

    Well, as they say, if wishes were horses, beggars could ride.

    • Yes, thanks for the information provided, Ms Wallace.

      I can address two points you raise.

      According to the chief he was unable, by law, to suspend Ala’s use of a city vehicle.

      The chief said cell phone use or texting was not an issue in the accident. Otherwise, that would have been the sort of negligence, such as driving over the speed limit, that would have triggered a felony charge.

      Bill Brown, Managing Editor

  3. Elizabeth Wallace | April 23, 2016 at 12:25 am |

    PS I hope Ala did not resign in order to take a job with another police department.

  4. Ashley Denise | April 23, 2016 at 11:10 am |

    Ms Wallace – being this was the first time the young lady had ever been on the stand she was admittedly very very nervous and of course first time she had ever had to come face to face with Ala, and he had support in the courtroom, she had noone except that of the DA. This case on road rage is far from over. This writer felt as if the US Atty in Pr Georges did a good job, the defense twisted the event and stated it happened in Ann Arundel hoping the family would back down after all the stress of the case. This wont happen. Mr. Ala broke the law and because he was a Police Officer they (the police) tried to bury it but the Va family did not allow that to happen. It took numerous calls to the State Police before anyone took them serious and realized this family was not backing down. Also it was not brought to the attention of the prosecution until the night before that they would be asking for a change of venue. Wondering why if anyone can reason they would want the change of venue, is it because he was only issued traffic citations for the incident in Ann Arundel, and he thinks he has a better chance there. They will testify albeit nervous but it is the right thing to do. Had they known about the vigil they would have stood right beside the Badders/Simpkins family to show their support. I wish I could contact you regarding the cases but not sure how to do so. He should have had been suspended without pay for both incidents for the seriousness of both offenses. Had either of these events happened with a every day citizen, in the road rage case immediate arrest and weapons probably would have had to have been surrendered until the case was resolved and the crash he should have been tested for drugs alcohol etc, his phone records subpoenaed. None of this happened, showing us as citizens that we are not exempt from the law but being a police officer does exempt you is preposterous in this day and age. We teach our children they are there to protect and these 2 incidents contradict what we teach our children. Mr. Ala is a loose cannon waiting to explode, I believe he has anger issues.
    My thoughts were the same when I seen he had resigned, will he attempt to get another job in another county with the Police because of course his resume will show none of these charges, only he was officer of the year in 2012 and a good cop, pretty scary he may become a cop somewhere else. His wife is still a cop in Tacoma Park by the way. Now with his resignation will he be backed by the Police Union, will they pay for his defense now?

  5. condolences to the family of the deceased. I am very familiar with Detective Travis Ala, in early of 2015 he tried to set me up for a crime I didn’t commit. A neigbour by the name Howward whom i filed sextual harrasment against called on his buddy Travis Ala that i have drug in house. They came out seached my place, no drug. He took my laptop, my passwords to my social media accounts, try to lure me to help him catch drug users. He set up profiles for me in different sites trying to lure men to offer me drugs. He then try to set up meeting in a hotel for this to happen, i called a lawyer and ask if this is even normal for a citizen with good standing moral to be asked to do this kind of sting operation. The lawyer told me it’s suspicious since i didn’t commit any crime. I have several text messages from him bugging me if someone has called me, if someone has emailed me. I thought about this for days, I wasn’t comfortable trying to help Ala arrest innocent people. I am not that kind of bad apple. I was shocked that a police office wants to send as many people to jail. My christian values wont just let me do it. I backed off, he kept pressuring me, I called Takoma park chief police office to complain of his harassment of wanting me to help in a sting operation. Is not that the department didn’t know this guy is bad. He looks charming but very very evil intention to get ahead, very manipulative in trying to talk me into helping but the real intention is to make me to break the law and then he will turn around and arrest me. He caused me a job with DC police department.

    I am shocked to my teeth that hes not in jail for killing 3 innocent people. If anyone wants to contact me about this case, I will be willing to help.

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