A special prosecutor's report into the flurry of charges arising from a fruitless drug search of Carroll County Commissioner J. Jeffrey Griffith and his car last winter seems to exonerate just about everyone involved.
Five months after beginning his investigation into the incident, State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli issued a report yesterday recommending no prosecution of anyone involved though he questioned some of the police work that led to the search.
Griffith, a Democrat who is in the midst of a hotly contested race for the Fifth District of the state Senate, was stopped Jan. 11 by police, who used trained dogs to sniff for evidence of drugs in his car. Although the dogs indicated they smelled something, the subsequent police search produced nothing. Griffith was not arrested or charged.
On his way to a campaign stop last night, Griffith said the report suggested that "any private citizen is at risk" for drug searches that can ruin a person's reputation. He said the report showed the police stopped him "based on the absolute worst kind of third-hand information."
Although the report "clears the air substantially," he said that for someone in public life, "once any kind of charge is made, you're damaged goods."
Montanarelli found no evidence of malice in the police work, but he said the police used the dogs on Griffith's car "without reasonable suspicion that drugs would be found in the vehicle." The law is unclear on this practice, Montanarelli said, and he feared people might abuse the law by wrongly accusing others of drug use.
The report recounts how an assistant state's attorney received information Jan. 7 from Jerry F. Barnes, who had resigned his job as an assistant state's attorney the previous month to run as a Democratic candidate to challenge his former boss, State's Attorney Tom Hickman, for the top job.
Barnes passed information to the assistant state's attorney that Griffith had offered someone a marijuana cigarette. After interviewing Barnes' sources, Montanarelli concluded that their information would not amount to probable cause for a search warrant. Barnes, however, said he received the same report about Griffith from another reliable source that he refused to reveal.
Griffith had charged that false reports were given to the police to prompt the drug search and that Barnes and his wife had supplied some of that information to embarrass him. But Montanarelli found no evidence of a Barnes conspiracy with law enforcement officials to embarrass Griffith.
For his part, Barnes has charged that Hickman acted improperly in advising Griffith after he was stopped that he should undergo tests to exonerate himself. Barnes believed that Hickman acted out of close political ties with Griffith.
Griffith submitted to a urinalysis and a polygraph test at his own expense and passed both.
Hickman, in turn, accused Barnes of leaking confidential law enforcement information to members of the county Democratic Central Committee that Griffith was under investigation for drug use. But the report said that whatever Barnes discussed with the committee was information that had obtained outside his former role as an assistant state's attorney.
Montanarelli also cleared Hickman of any accusation of misconduct in advising Griffith after the stop. Since Griffith had not been charged with a crime, Montanarelli said, he had the right "as any other citizen has the right to call the chief law enforcement authority in his jurisdiction and demand to know what caused his difficulties with the police."