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Investigation Takes Toll On Ocean City Police
BERLIN - After six straight days of intense investigation, the Ocean City police officers working on the Christy Freeman case are exhausted, said police spokesperson Barry Neeb.
'What we're doing is so important. They're being so meticulous and so thorough they don't take time for themselves,' Neeb said Wednesday, as evidence recovery at the Sunset Drive home Freeman shared with longtime partner Ray Godman and their four children wrapped up.
Freeman is accused of causing the death of the male fetus she was carrying and then delivering that infant, stillborn, at home.
Police also found three sets of fetus remains, reportedly bones, inside the house and a Winnebago parked in the driveway.
'They've been at it six days, starting Thursday night,' said Neeb. 'None of us have had a day off.'
The workload only adds to the burden of investigating a high-profile case involving children.
'It is emotional. It's very tough anytime you deal with children or young victims. It's very emotionally draining and very tiring,' Neeb said. 'But they know they've got a job to do and they're going to get it done.'
Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) personnel will be offered counseling, Neeb said.
Ocean City's police officers spent several days excavating a vacant lot next to Freeman's home under the direction of a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Evidence Recovery team with two of those days hitting the high 80s.
The department had misters, fans and towels drenched in ice water to relieve the personnel working on the excavation, who could also duck into the air-conditioned mobile command center for some relief.
'It was very hot and humid. We picked the three hottest days to be down there,' Neeb said.
Officers were also confronted with conducting a type of evidence search they had never tried before with the excavation of the empty lot. The FBI evidence team guided them through the process.
'They were really terrific. They were very helpful. We had never done [an excavation]. We never had a case that required it. They offered their assistance,' Neeb said. 'They were right there, getting sweaty and dirty and tired. We're very appreciative of their help. It was very valuable to us.'
Bringing in the FBI was a good move, said Ocean City Councilman Jay Hancock, who retired after 31 years with the Ocean City Police Department, part of that time as spokesperson.
'It wasn't [a decision] made out of desperation. It was the logical thing to do. Those guys deal with this a little more frequently,' Hancock said.
Personnel working the case were also subject to a different kind of pressure, with the eyes of the nation focused on the investigation.
'We don't get many nationally high-profile cases,' Neeb said.
Work proceeded under the eyes of cable news helicopters in the air and journalists from across the country were thick on the ground.
'They're not used to 100 media representatives staring at them while they're working,' Neeb said.
Townsfolk and tourists also came out to scrutinize proceedings, perhaps hoping for some personal insight into the complicated case.
Neeb said that the 'rubberneckers' at the site never posed a problem.
'People were respectful of what we were doing. They could see. It wasn't a hidden site,' Neeb said. 'It was like a CSI television show right in front of their eyes. The only difference was we didn't get it done in an hour.'
The investigation could not come at a worse time for the resort, in the middle of the most busy time of the tourist season, with over 300,000 visitors in town, a time when the OCPD has a lot to do with just ordinary calls for service and crimes.
'We had to reprioritize our personnel deployment. There were a lot of officers down on that scene,' Neeb said. 'Fortunately, it wasn't that busy [otherwise]. It was a crowded weekend and a crowded week but it worked out.'
Hancock said that the investigation was a good learning experience for Ocean City's police personnel, who are trained in the necessary skills but rarely need to use them.
'Fortunately, we don't get to, or are required to, practice those skills too often,' Hancock said. 'Something like this allows officers to put into perspective the skills they've acquired.'
Officers will be more confident that they can handle big cases like this one with this experience to draw on, he said.
The Sifrit case in 2002, Ocean City's most recent murder, also tested the OCPD's ability to handle a big crime. Benjamin and Erika Sifrit murdered Martha Crutchley and Joshua Ford, dismembered the bodies and discarded the bodies.
'Sifrit was every bit as complicated as this,' Hancock said. 'People on that case were finding arms and legs. It takes its toll, but people rise to the occasion.'
Neeb said he thinks that all the police work and training OCPD officers do prepares them for bigger cases like this.
'It did give us a chance to really test out the new command post,' Neeb said.
The command post allowed officers to access e-mail and the Internet, write reports on site and take care of all the administrative work that policing generates without leaving the scene.
Although evidence collection is complete, the case is far from over, with what Neeb called 'good old-fashioned police work' on the slate.
'A lot of this case is going to focus on very traditional and very common police investigation, interviewing, analyzing, following leads,' said Neeb.