Patricia Emory, the Severna Park Elementary principal accused until Tuesday of being a drug kingpin, believes she has been victimized by the judicial system. In fact, the system did what it was designed to do: protect her from indictment on what prosecutors said was insufficient evidence.
Naturally, Mrs. Emory does not see it that way. Her reputation has been tarnished in a way that could haunt her for the rest of her life. And though her lawyers broke out the champagne (a move that was not in good taste) when prosecutors decided not to seek indictment, she was not cleared in the irrefutable way a defendant is when declared not guilty after a trial. Suspicion still clings to her.
It is easy to criticize police and prosecutors for arresting Mrs. Emory at all, if the case against her was weak. But arresting, indicting and convicting are different processes demanding progressively stronger proof. To arrest and charge, police need probable cause. A briefcase containing $12,000 under her bed, marijuana stubs in her trash cans and the fact that she was married to and living with a man against whom police had strong evidence were plenty of probable cause.
It is important to remember that suspects are arrested all the time on probable cause and later released because there is not enough evidence to indict. Mrs. Emory's case was unusual in that her occupation made it a huge news story. On that account, law enforcement leaders should have been cautious before levying the serious kingpin charge. On the other hand, her status as a principal should not have exempted her from arrest because probable cause existed.
Because the charges against Mrs. Emory expire Friday, the question now is what happens to her job at Severna Park Elementary. The school board does not have to reinstate Mrs. Emory if it suspects she poses a moral threat to students.
While the board would do well to discern how the community would react to Mrs. Emory's return, there is no justification at this point for refusing to return her to the principal's office. However skeptically some may view her and despite the fact that the drug investigation remains open, she stands innocent and unfettered by charges. Unless new evidence surfaces, the community will be best served by putting this difficult, divisive case to rest.