Perjury trial begins for police officer

Perjury trial begins for police officer

Lawyers argue that incident caught on video was ‘mistake

by C. Benjamin Ford | Staff Writer
Gazette Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The perjury trial of Officer II Dina Hoffman began Monday in Montgomery County Circuit Court. A jury of six men and six women was selected to hear the case, which is expected to last through the week.

If convicted of perjury, Hoffman could face 10 years in prison.

George Zaliev, 57, of Rockville, was arrested in the parking lot of Sarkissian Interiors, at 8537 Atlas Drive in Gaithersburg, at about 7:30 p.m. May 3, 2008, and was charged with driving under the influence.

Zaliev, the first witness called, said he had stayed up working all night on a rush job upholstering furniture and had a few beers when he finished. Then, he said, he went outside to get a better signal on a mobile phone to call home to his native country of Georgia.

He then stretched out in the back seat of a friend’s car, waiting for his friend to return to drive him home, and Zaliev, testifying through an interpreter, said he “conked out.”

At his Montgomery County District Court trial in April 2009, Hoffman testified 12 times that she found Zaliev in the front driver’s seat. She said she shook him awake and that he did not cooperate on field sobriety tests.

But during the trial, Zaliev’s attorney, Paul E. Mack of Columbia, used a laptop computer to show a video from a security camera at Sarkissian that recorded the arrest. It showed Hoffman arriving and walking up to Zaliev, who was in the back seat.

After reviewing the security camera, the District Court judge immediately dismissed the DUI charge against Zaliev.

In his opening statement to jurors Monday, Howard County Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Furlong said, “This is a case about a lie.” Howard County prosecutors were assigned the case to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest with Montgomery County prosecutors called as witnesses.

Hoffman’s attorney, Louis M. Leibowitz, said his client simply had a faulty memory and did not intentionally lie at Zaliev’s trial.

Leibowitz said Hoffman immediately apologized after seeing the videotape.

“She made a mistake, and that is not a crime,” Leibowitz said.

Zaliev faced up to a year in jail if he had been convicted of the DUI charge.

As the trial resumed Tuesday, prosecutors pointed out that Zaliev never should have been charged with DUI, because he was sitting in the back seat of a parked car, and there was no signs that he had been driving the vehicle.

On Tuesday afternoon, the prosecution called Hoffman’s supervisor, Sgt. Donna Howard, who arrived at the scene to back up Hoffman.

“She was always very easy to supervise,” Howard said. “She was also the only other girl on the shift.”

The sergeant testified that she had asked Hoffman how Zaliev ended up in the back seat. Hoffman told her that she had ordered him to sit in the back seat and that he had been behind the wheel when she arrived.

“He was not cooperative,” Howard said of Zaliev. “He seemed like he was belligerent towards females.” Howard testified that Hoffman never told her she had found Zaliev in the back seat with his feet hanging out. A deputy arrived, administered a breath test to Zaliev and arrested him for the DUI, Howard said.

If she had known Zaliev had been sleeping in the back seat, he would not have been arrested, Howard said.