A Howard County police officer was arrested at the Ellicott City headquarters building by federal drug agents yesterday and charged with conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, stunning the 297 members of the department.
"This is a family to us," said Police Chief James N. Robey. "We see more of each other than our wife and kids. When one of your members falls, it reflects on all of us."
It was the first time in the department's 39-year history that one of its officers had been arrested on drug charges. Department officials said the charges against Gregory Albert Thomas, 27, so disturbed them that the officer was told to report to duty yesterday morning in plainclothes for a special assignment.
"I did not want him in uniform when he was arrested, for symbolic reasons," Chief Robey said.
The arrest of Officer Thomas stems from a federal investigation into narcotics trafficking at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, authorities said. An affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in support of the arrest warrant describes the police officer's alleged involvement.
A three-year veteran of the Howard County department, Officer Thomas allegedly approached two undercover officers of the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigations Division at the Four Winds Non-Commissioned Officer's Club at the base, telling them he was a drug dealer. During subsequent meetings, he allegedly told the undercover officers that he worked for the Howard County Police Department and that he could get them quantities of crack cocaine from a supplier named Emmett.
The affidavit also details one meeting in which Officer Thomas allegedly told the undercover officers about being with Emmett when the supplier was arrested by the District of Columbia's Metropolitan Police Department for allegedly selling cocaine. At that meeting, Officer Thomas is alleged to have described how he had hidden some of Emmett's cocaine. The Washington dealer, whom federal prosecutors declined to identify further, is now awaiting indictment in the District of Columbia Superior Court, according to the affidavit.
According to the affidavit, the undercover officers also bought quantities of crack cocaine from Officer Thomas on two occasions. If convicted, the officer will face at least 10 years in prison without parole and possibly a life sentence, according to prosecutors.
"This case is just another example of how the disease of drugs has infected all aspects of our life," said U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett. "It's always disheartening that while the overwhelming majority of officers and agents are risking their lives battling the effects of drug traffickers, a fellow officer is making the situation even more dangerous."
Officer Thomas had been assigned to the department's patrol division since 1988. One fellow officer, who asked not to be identified, said he "seemed to be a sharp character."
Officer Thomas has been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the federal case as well as an investigation by the Howard department's internal affairs unit, Chief Robey said. The federal probe involved agents of the Army CID and Drug Enforcement Administration investigators.
The chief also said that following his announcement of the arrest at the department's 3 p.m. roll call, he told his officers that the department had cooperated with the investigation. "I told them that if they are asked about it by citizens to say that the incident does not reflect the philosophy of the department and the department did not stand for it," Chief Robey said. "We cooperated willingly with DEA."
Federal authorities confirmed that Howard investigators aided in the case against the officer. But that fact did little to settle officers in the county department.
"Everybody is walking around like they're in a coma," one officer said yesterday.