There is “absolutely no evidence” police directed hospital personnel to keep Megan Shaffer from seeing her family until she was interviewed by law enforcement.
That comes from a court opinion, signed this week by Garrett County Administrative Judge Raymond Strubin, which quashes Shaffer’s argument that statements she gave police on three separate occasions should be suppressed — in her upcoming murder trial — because they were the result of improper inducements.
Shaffer, 21, of Ridgeley, West Virginia, is charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and assisting another to commit or attempt to commit suicide in the death of Alexander Stevens, 24, of Frostburg.
Stevens was found, naked, with his throat slashed and at the bottom of a cliff, dead on Jan. 4 last year within the Savage River State Forest in Garrett County near Pine Swamp Road.
In December, Shaffer entered a not guilty plea to all counts.
Last month, Shaffer’s attorney, Stephen R. Tully — of Towson-based Seigel, Tully, Rouhana & Tully — asked the court to suppress Shaffer’s interviews with police conducted at Western Maryland Regional Medical Center between early afternoon on Jan. 4, 2017 and early morning on Jan. 6, 2017.
Shaffer's statements to police at that time were “involuntary” and it would be “logical” for her to have wanted to see her parents, Tully argued.
Strubin, via the recent opinion, disagreed.
Commenting about the first interview, Shaffer was in the hospital being treated for injuries sustained in a 20- to 30-foot fall off a cliff and injuries related to exposure, the opinion reads.
“Although not required, the officers went so far as to inquire of the medical personnel as to Ms. Shaffer’s condition and if any of the injuries she sustained would affect her cognition,” the opinion states.
Further, based on testimony from C3I investigator Eric Schramm of the Maryland State Police at the January motion hearing, “he took preliminary steps to assess (Shaffer’s) condition when he first arrived at the hospital by speaking with a medic that transported Ms. Shaffer in the ambulance and also a doctor responsible for treating her,” the opinion states.
Schramm was advised by hospital personnel that Shaffer had undergone a CT scan and was not suffering from any injuries to her brain or head that would prevent her from answering questions.
“The doctor indicated she had been hypothermic but her body temperature was back to normal and that she should not have any cognitive difficulties. In addition, Ms. Shaffer had received a small amount of pain medication on the way to the hospital but the doctor advised most of that would have been out of her system by the time of the officer’s arrival. The doctor indicated there should be no reason Ms. Shaffer would not be able to give a statement to the police.”
Shaffer was advised of her Miranda rights orally and in writing and she voluntarily signed a waiver of those rights, the opinion states.
At some point during the first interview, “a member of the nursing staff comes in to attend to Ms. Shaffer,” the opinion states.
In the court’s opinion, “the fact that (Shaffer) did not ask, in the presence of the officers, to speak with her family calls in to question the veracity of the allegation. The record is completely void of any request by Ms. Shaffer to see her parents and she makes no mention of her family.”
According to the opinion, a second interview with Shaffer occured roughly 26 hours later on Jan. 5, 2017, with Schramm and MSP Homicide Unit Sgt. Jonathan Martin.
“Interview #2 begins with another advice of Miranda rights, with Ms. Shaffer signing the written waiver again,” the opinion states.
The third and final interview takes place roughly 10 hours after the second, just after midnight on Jan. 6, 2017.
“This interview is conducted at the request of Ms. Shaffer for her to clarify some information she had previously given the officers,” the opinion states. “She is Mirandized for the third time and waives her rights before the interview begins. Ms. Shaffer is visibly upset and cries throughout the interview because she is concerned about inconsistencies in her previous statements and how they might be interpreted by the officers.”
Shaffer requested to talk to the officers because she wanted to clarify and disclose additional information so the officers would understand the actions she took during the incident, the opinion states.
“At no time do the officers make any threats, promises, or inducements. It should be noted again that she has seen her family at this point and the issue raised regarding (the first interview) is moot.”
The central question the court is presented with is whether the employees of the medical center were acting as agents of law enforcement, the opinion states.
The only evidence presented by either side was testimony from Shaffer and her mother.
“It would have been very useful to the Court to have independent testimony or evidence from hospital staff or policy manuals on limiting access of family to patients,” the opinion states. “Since the record is void of any such evidence, the Court is left with the limited testimony of the Defendant and her mother to make the determination, even though the potential for bias is significant.”
From reviewing the audio recordings and written transcripts, it is very clear police never deny Shaffer access to her family and make no threats, promises, or inducements, the opinion states.
While Shaffer testified at the January motion hearing she could not recall whether she asked any of the officers to see her family, Strubin states via the court opinion, “in listening to the audio recording, she never makes any mention of wanting to see her family to the officers or the hospital personnel that enter the room. She also testified that she does not recall any names of these hospital workers that allegedly made these statements.”
The record is completely void of any evidence or testimony that the statements, if made, were directed by police, the opinion states.
Police officers acted properly with respect to all three interviews and the motion to suppress “is hereby DENIED,” the opinion states.
A motion hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. March 12.
The trial is set for the following four days, with jury selection expected on March 13.
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