Prosecutor defends decision by police to arrest principal Case was dropped for lack of evidence

December 10, 1992|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer Staff writers Kris Antonelli and Liz Atwood contributed to this article.

Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbe said yesterday that he never authorized the criminal charges filed against Patricia Emory, the elementary school principal police arrested as a drug kingpin six weeks ago.

But he said he believes police acted properly in charging her -- based on evidence gathered during an 11-month investigation that culminated Oct. 29 with a series of raids on homes and warehouse storage lockers.

Ten people, including Mrs. Emory and her husband, James, were arrested. Police seized more than 400 pounds of marijuana and $320,000 in cash and other property.

Tuesday, Mr. Weathersbee announced that he did not have enough evidence to seek a grand jury indictment of Mrs. Emory. The drug kingpin charge will expire tomorrow.

In major criminal cases, state's attorneys sometimes review the case before police file charges. Mr. Weathersbee said that didn't happen in Mrs. Emory's case, but he defended the investigator's decision.

"We would have been criticized if we didn't charge them both," Mr. Weathersbee said of Patricia and James Emory.

Defense attorneys say it is common throughout Maryland for police making an arrest to cast a wide net -- charging everyone in a home where drugs are found with the maximum offenses and leaving it to the state's attorney to sort out who is culpable.

"If there's a wife living in the house and the police find drugs, most of the time they'll charge her," said Russell White, a Towson defense attorney. "They seem to charge anyone within touching distance."

Mr. Weathersbee emphasized Tuesday that the investigation is continuing and that if evidence is found linking Mrs. Emory to the drug ring, a grand jury might be asked to consider the case. He said the grand jury will be reviewing additional facts on Monday.

The decision not to seek an indictment of Mrs. Emory ended weeks of speculation about whether the state would pursue the case -- and sparked sharp criticism about whether the school principal who publicly professed her innocence was treated fairly.

"It's atrocious what they've done to this lady. She's been assassinated," said George Lantzas, a criminal defense attorney.

Peter S. O'Neill, who is representing James Emory, said the nearly yearlong investigation by police should have given them enough information to determine whom to charge.

"My position would be when you do something that may ruin someone's reputation and career, you really have to be careful," Mr. O'Neill said. "Now, no matter what she does, some people are going to think she was involved with drugs."

But police investigators believe that their case was strong enough for an indictment.

Capt. Michael Fitzgibbons, who heads the Criminal Investigation Division, said Sgt. Joseph Bisesi reviewed the evidence against Mrs. Emory and decided to file the kingpin charges. Police said there were four pieces of evidence that appeared to link Mrs. Emory to drug activity: a briefcase with $12,000 in cash in the couple's bedroom, half-smoked marijuana cigarettes in the household trash, her presence in the home during meetings among Mr. Emory and others allegedly involved in the ring, and the marijuana found in the storage bins.

"He added all that up and made the decision," Captain Fitzgibbons said of Sergeant Bisesi's review of the evidence.

Timothy Murnane, who is representing Linda Emory, Mrs. Emory's sister-in-law, said his client's case is similar to the school principal's case.

Linda Emory was initially charged as a drug kingpin, but charges against her were reduced to possession of marijuana and intent to use drug paraphernalia.

"It can cause irreparable harm, and that's something that should be, but isn't always, considered," Mr. Murnane said.

Mr. Weathersbee said there are two different legal standards involved, one for police filing criminal charges and the other for pursuing a case when it is later screened by state's attorneys for prosecution.

In the case of filing charges, police need only establish probable cause, meaning police must have sufficient evidence that a crime was committed and that the defendant could have committed it.

In the 30-day screening process used by the state's attorney, prosecutors weigh the facts to see if there is sufficient evidence to convict.

E. Thomas Maxwell, Patricia Emory's attorney, indicated yesterday that she may file suit but declined to comment on specific plans.

"When the right time comes, you're going to be hearing a lot more from me," he said.

It still is unclear if and when Mrs. Emory will be able to return to her job at Severna Park Elementary School.

She has been on leave with pay since her arrest.

School officials said they are waiting to receive official confirmation from the state's attorney's office that the charges against her have expired.

"The situation we're faced with is we have no more information than what has been reported in the media," said school spokeswoman Jane Doyle. "The board is not going to take any action without some official notification."

Yesterday it was unclear whether an administrative hearing would be needed to reinstate Mrs. Emory.

Ms. Doyle said that before Mrs. Emory could be reinstated, the superintendent would have to make a recommendation to the school board and the board would have to approve the action.

School board president Vincent Leggett said he was unsure of what would happen next. "There's not much precedent for this."

Mr. Leggett said it could take the board as long as 30 to 60 days to resolve Mrs. Emory's status.

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