Report Finds Officials' Actions 'Unusual' But Not Criminal

November 04, 1990|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman and Commissioner Jeff Griffith said Friday they plan to investigate possible changes in the use of drug-sniffing dogs.

Their plans are the result of a report by the state special prosecutor, who raised concerns about the use of canines in some drug investigations.

But the use of the dogs was not the only "troubling" action State Special Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli discussed in the 25-page report released Thursday evening that cleared local officials of wide-ranging allegations of criminal wrongdoing.

Throughout the report, Montanarelli called aspects of the actions of Hickman and Democratic opponent Jerry F. Barnes, a former assistant state's attorney who resigned last year "unusual and questionable."

The investigation of charges by Hickman, Barnes and Griffith was spurred by Griffith's allegations that he was set up Jan. 11 when his car was stopped and searched. No drugs were found in Griffith's car and he never was arrested or charged.

While Montanarelli found no evidence of a set-up, he said Griffith's "theory is certainly a possibility." He went a step further and questioned whether alerts by drug dogs is strong enough evidence by itself to justify a search of someone's car.

"It raises the specter that any citizen's vehicle could be contaminated by either rubbing or planting drugs on it," the report said. "An anonymous call to the (Drug Coordinating Committee) could precipitate a drug sniff without any verification of the caller's information, leading to reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed."

Griffith said he thought the report "came pretty close to saying that there was no evidence to support the use of the drug dogs on my car." He said he would like to see the law regarding what constitutes "reasonable suspicion" codified so it is not unclear to any law enforcement agency.

Hickman said he agrees with the questions raised in the report about the dogs.

"I plan to take copies of the report to the (task force advisory) committee and have a meeting as to whether the way these dogs are used should be examined," said Hickman, whose office runs the task force. "We may also study what other jurisdictions do."

He called the report "fair" and is "tremendously relieved that it's over."

After Griffith raised the possibility that he was set up for political embarrassment, Hickman asked the special prosecutor to look into Griffith's charges.

He also asked the prosecutor to examine allegations that Barnes and his wife -- ex-Carroll County Times reporter Carmen Amedori -- leaked information about the search to embarrass Hickman and Griffith.

In the report, Montanarelli said Griffith believes Amedori notified members of the media about the search of his car in a deliberate attempt to embarrass him. The prosecutor said Amedori admits making the phone calls, but added that, "whether or not she made them to injure Griffith's reputation is not a proper inquiry for our office."

After reviewing the evidence, however, Montanarelli said his office concluded there was no evidence of a conspiracy on the part of Barnes, his wife, or the drug task force. Also, he noted that since the two are private citizens and calls to newspapers are not criminal actions, he found nothing illegal.

Amedori said she wasn't interviewed by investigators and didn't understand how the report could contain admissions by her.

But Jack Cabezas, chief investigator for the report, said Friday that while the "majority of our contacts were with Jerry Barnes, I did interview his wife as well."

Barnes said the report "makes it absolutely clear that I did nothing wrong."

Another allegation made by Hickman concerned whether Barnes -- who served under him for 13 years -- disclosed confidential law enforcement information to the Democratic Central Committee.

The report said several members of the Central Committee were interviewed about a meeting last Dec. 7 where Barnes allegedly told them to warn Griffith he was under investigation for drugs.

Montanarelli concludes there was no planned investigation of Griffith at the time, so Barnes could not have committed misconduct in office by disclosing any allegations about Griffith. However, the special prosecutor does maintain that as an assistant state's attorney, statements about investigations would carry more weight than if they were made by a private person.

"Such statements, if they were made, would reflect on the integrity of the prosecutors office and would certainly impugn the reputation of a person neither charged or convicted," said the report.

The report further states only three of the eight people present at the Democratic Central Committee meeting recalled the statements being made.

"Under such circumstances, it would be extremely difficult to prove they (statements) were made," the report said.

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