ELKTON — Det. Lindsey Ziegenfuss of the Elkton Police Department has spent the past decade locking up suspects that she charged with murder, rape, child abuse, burglary and other crimes.
But on Thursday afternoon, Ziegnfuss found herself on the other side of the cops-and-robbers equation when she was placed inside a makeshift jail cell at the Elk River Brewing Company on Main Street in Elkton.
Ziegenfuss, like the rest of her cellmates, stood charged with one felony count of knowingly and voluntarily committing a good deed. She took her time behind bars rather well, as it turns out, mainly because the maximum sentence she faced was only four hours.
“For the past 10 years, I’ve been arresting people for all sorts of crimes. I never thought I’d be wearing a jail jumpsuit,” Ziegenfuss said, pausing and smiling before noting, “But at least the jail jumpsuit is pink, which is nice because pink is my favorite color.”
Ziegenfuss was one of 20 law enforcement officers, citizens, lawyers and county and municipal leaders who agreed to be “incarcerated” as part of a jail-and-bail event to raise funds to design, purchase and erect a permanent Cecil County Homicide Victims Memorial in the Unity Garden in front of the Cecil County Circuit Courthouse.
Every April since 2000, the Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office has sponsored a Victims Memorial Wall & Walk at that location to publicly remember county residents who lost their lives at the hands of others in murders, manslaughters, vehicular homicides and similar crimes.
The names of victims are placed on cards and then are affixed to a makeshift wall created with office partitions during the annual event, which attracts dozens of surviving family members and friends. The names also appear on signs lining the courtyard sidewalks.
But those signs and the makeshift memorial wall are taken down immediately after every annual Victims Memorial Wall & Walk event.
For the past couple of years, Friends of Cecil County Victims Memorial Service, a nonprofit group, has been pushing for a permanent memorial. The vision is to have the victims memorial in the shape of a tree, made of steel and at least 10 feet tall, and to have the names of victims engraved on padlocks that can be added to the branches over the years.
Kathy VanCulin, one of the planners, told the Cecil Whig that the group is trying to raise $30,000 to cover the designing, building and erecting of the permanent memorial, in addition to purchasing, as a starter, 400 padlocks, which cost $30 apiece, counting the engraving. The goal is to have the victims memorial up by April 2020, when Cecil County will host the regional Homicide Victims Wall & Walk event.
Thursday’s four-hour-long event, which involved “inmates” soliciting their family, friends and colleagues for “bail money” earmarked for the cause, put a sizable dent in the total funds needed for the memorial.
Approximately 90 minutes into the jail-and-bail, nearly $15,000 had been donated to the cause, which warmed the hearts of VanCulin and others who are close to the victims memorial project.
VanCulin’s sister, Terri Ann McCoy, 40, was shot and killed when she stirred from sleep after four gunmen broke into her parents’ Chesapeake City-area home in November 2009, terrorized the couple and then robbed them.
“The donations and the turnout for this is more amazing than I could have ever dreamed,” VanCulin said.
Lynn Jones, whose 22-year-old son, Ross Jones, was beaten and fatally shot inside his Elkton home in April 2005, remarked, “It is wonderful that so many people are in here in support of this.”
In sharp contrast to the seriousness of the crimes that created the need for a victims memorial, Thursday’s event was zany — with the likes of Sheriff Scott Adams, Elkton Mayor Rob Alt, County Council President Bob Meffley and others spending some photo-op time in a black, wooden jail cell in the corner of the brewery.
Most were clad in gender-appropriate orange and pink inmate uniforms. Perpetuating the Big House stereotypes, each reporting inmate was issued a bar of soap-on-a-rope and a cupcake with a “breakout” nail file stuck in it.
Every inmate was given a card bearing his or her inmate number, with the series of digits holding a personal significance. For example, county prosecutor James Dellmyer is scheduled to take his oath of office as the recently-appointed Interim State’s Attorney on Friday, so his inmate number read — 03152019, marking that date.
There also was plenty of slammer jokes and references, like when Cecil County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Angel Valle started flexing his muscles moments after arriving and donning his orange jumpsuit.
Apparently, he didn’t want the more seasoned inmates to mess with him.
“I’m the alpha male,” Valle declared, as he made his biceps bulge.
As far as jails go, the one inside the Elk River Brewing Company on Thursday was one of the happiest. The inmates were allowed to roam outside the jail cell, drink beer if they so desired, order food and socialize freely with fellow jailbirds and with people on the outside.
But, amid the silliness of the event, the sadness and the seriousness of the cause wasn’t lost on inmates, including at least two who are Maryland State Police homicide detectives.
“I actually am thinking about the victims and their families today because of this (event),” said Ziegenfuss, who has investigated murder cases over the years. “You grow close to the surviving members. I still communicate with them pretty frequently.”