By Joe Murchison
The Laurel Independent searched publicly available court records on all of the city’s mayoral candidates, two of whom have run into trouble with the law. Readers should be warned that this article mentions sexual assault.
Martin Mitchell was convicted of a misdemeanor second-degree assault in an incident involving a woman in November 2013. He received a five-year jail sentence, which was suspended, and he was placed on five years of probation. In an interview, Mitchell denied that he had committed the crime.
In a statement of charges in Mitchell’s case, a Baltimore County police officer wrote that a woman came to a county police station on Nov. 10, 2013, to report an incident. The woman said she was having sex with Mitchell in the bedroom of his residence in Woodlawn when the woman, who was lying face down on the bed, looked up to find that Mitchell’s roommate had taken Mitchell’s place, the statement said. She observed that Mitchell and his roommate were laughing, according to the statement.
Mitchell said in the interview that the statement was not correct. “We finished [sex] and she realized my roommate had walked in the room,” he said. “She freaked out.” Mitchell said his roommate did not engage in sex with the woman.
In the statement of charges, the officer quoted the woman as saying she yelled at the roommate when she saw he was having sex with her and that the roommate “stepped away and pulled up his pants.”
Mitchell and his roommate were students at the University of Maryland Baltimore County at the time. The statement of charges said the university suspended them when it learned of this incident.
Mitchell and his roommate were charged with two counts of sex offense and one of assault. At their trials in September 2014, they both tendered an Alford plea to the assault charge, meaning they did not admit to committing the crime but acknowledged the prosecution had enough evidence to convict them. Prosecutors dropped the two sex-offense charges.
The roommate received the same sentence as Mitchell.
Mitchell said in the interview, “We decided to do an Alford plea because you didn’t have to go to trial” and risk going to jail. “Sometimes in the criminal justice system, justice isn’t always reached.”
Online court records also show that Mitchell pleaded guilty to a charge of driving while impaired by a controlled dangerous substance in April 2013, for which he received probation before judgment. He said in the interview that the incident involved a minor traffic violation he made while driving in College Park with friends. He acknowledged that he had smoked marijuana before the stop.
Brencis Smith was charged in Montgomery County with driving without a license in May 2022. When he failed to show up for a trial last January, the judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest. Smith was served with the warrant on May 2 and was released on his own recognizance. The trial is now scheduled for Dec. 1.
Smith told the judge in a hand-written motion in March that he had not received the notice for his January court date.
In motions in May and June, he requested that his trial be moved up, indicating that he wanted it resolved because he was running for mayor of Laurel. The judge declined his request.
In one of these motions, Smith mentioned that unpaid traffic tickets had been attached to his Maryland license, causing the license suspension. In an interview, Smith said the tickets dated back to 2012 or 2013, shortly after he moved to Maryland from his native Connecticut. Smith said correspondence about the tickets must have been mailed to his former Connecticut address, and he hadn’t received any.
He said his failure to attend to the tickets was a reflection of his young age and his father’s recent death. “At 23, was that top of my mind? No. I was still grieving.”
Court records also show that Smith was sued by the owner of a Greenbelt apartment complex for $6,658 in 2018. A Prince George’s County judge entered a civil judgment against Smith for $8,867, which included the initial amount, interest, attorney’s fees and court costs. The records show that Smith had satisfied the judgment by October 2020.
Smith said in the interview that he had moved into the apartment complex around 2015, and that the management hit him with a $2,000 fine for leaving tire tracks on the grass when he moved in. He said he asked to be allowed to fix the damage himself, but management refused. He said that experience, coupled with other management practices prompted him to move out a few months later, breaking his lease.
“I understand what happens to people with predatory behaviors,” Smith said, referring to complaints he had heard from some of his Laurel constituents about their landlords.