A former senior assistant state's attorney confirmed Friday that the county drug task force used Scott Markle as an informant on local politicians, but said Democrats were not specific targets.
W. Samuel Truette, former head of the Carroll Drug Coordinating Committee, said he met with Markle twice in a secluded park in April to encourage him to provide incriminating information on politicians, including County Commissioner Jeff Griffith.
Markle, 29, is the president of the Carroll County Democratic Club and the former campaign chairman for Jerry Barnes, the Democratic challenger in the county state's attorney's race.
Griffith, a candidate for state Senate, was stopped by the Coordinating Committee last January and his car was searched. No drugs were found, and Griffith was not charged with any crime. At his own expense, he took and passed urinalysis and polygraph tests.
In the latest episode in the bitter state's attorney's race, incumbent Thomas E. Hickman made public Markle's encounter with the police during an Oct. 16 debate with Barnes, a former senior assistant state's attorney who resigned in December and switched to the Democratic Party to run against his long-time boss.
During the debate, Hickman accused Barnes, one-time county GOP chairman, of associating with "known criminals" and announced that Markle's car had been stopped on April 20 and searched by the Coordinating Committee.
Hickman displayed a state police report on the drug search at a Tuesday press conference. The report said Markle admitted to past cocaine use and that a marijuana cigarette was found in his car.
Markle was arrested and strip-searched -- but never charged -- after the search.
Members of the law enforcement community -- including Truette -- said they were shocked Hickman would release a file on a private citizen who never was charged with a crime.
"I don't see any justification for doing that," said Truette, now a Baltimore County public defender. "The man was never charged; it's like McCarthyism."
Truette and Barnes said Hickman's actions in releasing the police report could be illegal.
But Hickman said he was justified in releasing the report.
"It was in the public interest to release the report," said Hickman.
"These fellows (Barnes and Markle) got caught by surprise. They didn't realize there was a report to back up my allegations."
C. J. Messerschmidt, a state assistant attorney general, backed up Hickman. She said she believes it was within his rights as custodian of the documents.
"These kinds of records can be withheld if it's deemed in the public interest, and, therefore, they also can be released," Messerschmidt said.
"At least at first glance, I don't see a crime here."
In response to Hickman's accusations and the release of the report, Markle called a press conference and read a six-page statement Thursday questioning the actions of the Coordinating Committee and claiming he was harassed into becoming an informant in a drug "witch hunt."
Markle said he never was shown the marijuana cigarette police claim was found in his car. He also said he never admitted to using cocaine, rolling the marijuana cigarette, or purchasing the rolling papers -- all allegations contained in the police report.
He said he told police a friend may have had marijuana in his car around Christmas time. He said he was in a group of people a year ago when one of them engaged in a cocaine transaction, but that he had no contact or knowledge of cocaine use or dealings by anyone since then.
Markle said the officers threatened that his reputation would be ruined if he didn't provide them with information on that year-old cocaine transaction.
The Taneytown resident, who volunteers for many community organizations and teaches Sunday School, said he was frightened by the threats.
Three days later, Markle said he was contacted by a task force officer who set up a meeting with an assistant state's attorney. Although Markle would not name the state's attorney at his press conference, Truette confirmed Friday that he was the contact.
But that is where Markle's and Truette's stories diverge. Markle said Truette told him, "You have something to lose. If you are charged it will be all over the papers, and you will be through."
Markle said he 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." He said he also was told to get information on other Democrats whose names he did not disclose.
Truette said Markle neither was threatened nor told to "go after" top Democrats nor to sell drugs to Griffith. He also denied having a vendetta against Griffith.
"I told him to try to get into a drug-related dialogue with Jeff Griffith, but I never said anything about him buying or selling drugs," said Truette, who added that police routinely discuss wearing a recording device with informants.
Truette said he believed the report made by the officers who interrogated Markle -- state police Tfcs. A. Donald Grimes and Jack Hinkle, Taneytown Police Chief Melvin Diggs and Westminster Police Detective Sgt.
Andrew McKendrick -- was "a true representation of their observations."
Griffith, who's known Markle since high school, said he believes his friend's entire story.
"Whoever set up the hit on me set up the hit on Scott to create a situation where they could frame me," Griffith said, adding he felt the committee was "out of control" until Truette left June 6.
Hickman -- whose office runs the Drug Committee with the assistance of the state police -- said Friday that he did not know Markle was an informant even though he had an informant card and number issued by the group.
But Truette said he told Hickman of the informant arrangement within a week of Markle's April arrest and warned Hickman to keep the information quiet:
"I told him no mention of the facts should be made to anyone."