A week after being labeled a drug user by the Carroll County state's attorney, the president of the county's Democratic Club said yesterday that police threatened to ruin him last April if he didn't cooperate with an assistant prosecutor who was on what he described as "a witch hunt for Democratic political figures."
Scott W. Markle, 29, refused to name the police officers or the assistant state's attorney involved, but said in a prepared statement that the prosecutor "demanded information and cooperation regarding Commissioner [J. Jeffrey] Griffith," now a Democratic candidate for state Senate.
Last January, in similar circumstances, Mr. Griffith was stopped by undercover members of the county's Drug Coordinating Committee on the basis of an unidentified informant's tip.
In both cases, police dogs reacted as if there were drugs in their cars, and the men agreed to a search of their cars and bodies. Neither was ever charged with any crime, and the leadership of the drug task force has since changed.
Mr. Markle's experience with the task force became public Oct. 16 in a live debate on cable television between the Republican state's attorney, Thomas E. Hickman, and his former senior assistant, Jerry F. Barnes, who quit his job and registered as a Democrat a year ago and has since waged a bitter campaign against his former boss.
When the time came for the two to question each other, Mr. Hickman unleashed a series of allegations about supposed supporters of Mr. Barnes, following them up with a blast at Mr. Markle, a Barnes supporter who served briefly as campaign manager.
Tuesday, the state's attorney called a news conference and released a supplemental police report on the Markle incident -- a move that rebutted denials by Mr. Markle and his attorneys but that shocked and angered members of the law enforcement and legal community.
In his statement yesterday, Mr. Markle questioned whether the police found or planted part of a supposed marijuana cigarette -- there was too little to test -- and rolling papers in his car.
He admitted that he may have had a friend with marijuana in the car in December and that he knew someone who had been involved in a cocaine transaction last year, but refused to answer questions about supposed admissions that he used these drugs contained in the police report released by Mr. Hickman Tuesday.
Like Mr. Griffith, Mr. Markle said he was frightened and afraid he would be ruined by the incident.
Unlike Mr. Griffith, who said he was treated politely, Mr. Markle said he was threatened with a weekend in jail, his name in the papers and a bleak future if he didn't cooperate. In addition to his political activities, he is a deacon at his church and serves on the boards or volunteers for numerous charitable and community groups.
He said he attended two meetings with an assistant prosecutor in a secluded park, where "I was instructed to develop a dialogue with Commissioner Griffith regarding drugs and try to get into such a position that the state could put a recorder or transmitter on me while I attempted to sell marijuana to him.
"I said I would see what I could do. I was given this card marked informant No. 180," he said.
But Mr. Markle said he had no intention of doing any of this, because "neither Mr. Griffith nor any other person named by the state had ever been involved in drug use of any kind to my knowledge."
In Mr. Griffith's case, after nothing was found and he was released without being charged, the commissioner called Mr. Hickman and followed his advice to have a urinalysis to prove the absence of drugs.
After the Griffith incident was leaked to the news media by the Barnes camp, which blasted the state's attorney for helping the commissioner, Mr. Hickman declared Mr. Griffith innocent and the matter closed -- and denounced his opponent while requesting an investigation by the state special prosector, Stephen Montanarelli.
That investigation has been under way for several months, but Mr. Montanarelli will not say whether it will be completed before the Nov. 6 election. At Mr. Barnes' request, Mr. Montanarelli has agreed to look into the Markle incident, too.
Mr. Hickman said in response to numerous questions that he sees no parallel between the stopping of Mr. Griffith and of Mr. Markle, even though neither man was charged.
Mr. Griffith, a college professor who recently completed law school, said he knew about the attempt to put pressure on Mr. Markle. "I and other people in this community are frightened by the persistence of attempts to incriminate people who are involved in politics on baseless information," Mr. Griffith said.