ROCKVILLE – Four people cited for disorderly conduct for disrupting a Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC) meeting had hoped to have the charges against them dismissed at their March 4 hearing, but that did not happen.
Instead, District Court of Rockville Commissioner Wendy Auen informed the defendants, who want to memorialize a historically black cemetery that lies beneath the parking area of the Westwood Tower apartments in Bethesda, that they must appear for trial on April 29.
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, Lynn Pekkanen, Tim Willard and Mary Rooker were not given the opportunity to speak in court March 4. Instead, their pro bono attorneys from Baker McKenzie of Washington, D.C. submitted paperwork to the court and spoke to Commissioner Wuen.
The defendants did not carry signs or protest in any way during their brief court appearance, something they have been doing regularly at HOC monthly meetings.
The four were arrested during the HOC’s Jan. 9 meeting.
Three others, Rev. Segun Adebayo of the Macedonia Baptist Church, Somerset Mayor Jeffrey Slavin and Lucille Perez, were cited for disorderly conduct during the Feb. 6 HOC meeting. They must appear at the District Court of Rockville on March 10.
Attorney Jennifer Semko said her office has been trying to contact the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office to have the charges dropped against her clients, but that did not occur.
“We’ve been calling repeatedly, and we’ve been trying to have a conversation,” Semko said. “We haven’t heard back.”
Now that the defendants have been assigned a trial date, she expects that conversation will happen soon.
Charges should be dropped, the defendants said, since HOC Executive Director Stacy Spann wrote in an email to Segun Adebayo that he did not wish to pursue charges.
“I want to assure you that while the actions took place on HOC’s property after we had closed out the community forum portion of our agenda, HOC is not pressing charges,” Spann wrote in an email that the defendants shared with the Montgomery Sentinel.
Members of Macedonia Baptist Church, the Green Party and others living in the River Road area of Bethesda say they want to honor their ancestors, many of whom were slaves, whose bones lie beneath the parking area of the 212-apartment complex.
“Our tent is getting larger and larger,” Pekkham said of the groups supporting memorialization of the area around the former Moses Cemetery.
Robin Ficker, a county attorney who ran unsuccessfully for county executive last year, planned to lead a Republican effort to have the cemetery memorialized, according to the defendants.
The HOC also is on record in support. However, the commissioners believe a group of stakeholders consisting of officials from the county council, county park and planning commission and members of Macedonia Baptist Church, as well as the River Road African American community, should work together on the project.
Coleman-Adebayo, however, believes members of Macedonia Baptist Church and its supporters must be allowed to decide by themselves how best to memorialize the cemetery.
“We are not interested in a plaque,” she said.
County Executive Marc Elrich said earlier that he has communicated with both Coleman-Adebayo and Spann about setting up a meeting, but no meeting has been scheduled yet.