Carroll attorney sues drug task force members

December 31, 1992|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

A prominent Carroll County Democrat, labeled a drug user during the 1990 election campaign, was pressured by a state prosecutor to try to sell marijuana to then-County Commissioner Jeff Griffith, according to a $2 million civil suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The suit was filed by Mr. Griffith, a Westminster attorney who served two terms as a county commissioner. He was running for the state Senate at the time.

Mr. Griffith's suit claims that Scott W. Markle, president of the county's Democratic Club, was stopped by members of the Carroll County Drug Coordinating Committee -- the forerunner of today's Carroll County Narcotics Task Force -- in April 1990.

Mr. Markle's car was searched for drugs, he was strip-searched and told he would have to spend time in jail if he didn't cooperate with the task force, the suit says.

Mr. Griffith also had been stopped by the task force in January 1990, and he and his car had been searched.

As with the Markle stop, no drugs were found and no criminal charges were filed.

Mr. Griffith's lawsuit claims that Mr. Markle was used as part of a conspiracy to entrap Mr. Griffith.

The suit also calls the behavior of the defendants "extreme and outrageous."

The lawsuit claims that Mr. Griffith's constitutional rights were violated, that he was falsely imprisoned, that his private life was unreasonably publicized, that his reputation was harmed and that the defendants intentionally inflicted emotional distress on him.

Named as defendants in the suit are W. Samuel Truette, a Carroll public defender who in 1990 was an assistant state's attorney and head of the drug coordinating committee; drug task force officers Andrew McKendrick and Donald Grimes; Carroll Sheriff's Deputy Thomas Bader; and state police Detective George Butler.

The suit, filed Dec. 18, details several meetings between Mr. Markle and Mr. Truette.

During those meetings, the suit says, Mr. Truette asked Mr. Markle to name political figures "who are involved in drugs."

"You are different than the usual criminal, you have something to lose," the suit quotes Mr. Truette saying to Mr. Markle during an April 24 meeting in a Westminster park. "If this makes the papers, this will ruin you, but we will save you if you help us."

Mr. Truette was served with a copy of the lawsuit in his office about noon yesterday. He could not be reached for comment.

Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman made the records of Mr. Markle's drug stop public during a debate against Jerry F. Barnes, Mr. Hickman's Democratic opponent in the 1990 campaign.

Mr. Markle had alleged at that time that he was under pressure to name names and attempt to sell drugs to political figures. Mr. Markle was Mr. Barnes' campaign secretary, but he resigned after he was stopped by the drug officers.

Mr. Markle declined to comment on the suit last night. Mr. Barnes could not be reached for comment.

In Mr. Griffith's lawsuit, Mr. Truette is publicly identified for the first time as the person who allegedly pressured Mr. Markle to try to sell drugs.

All of the defendants were members of the coordinating committee and all put pressure on Mr. Markle to link Mr. Griffith to drugs, the lawsuit says.

The defendants are being sued as individuals, not in their official capacities. None could be reached for comment last night.

By putting pressure on Mr. Markle to link Mr. Griffith to drugs, the defendants "attempted to impede, hinder, obstruct or defeat the due course of justice," the suit says.

Mr. Griffith declined to comment on the lawsuit yesterday, as did his attorney, J. Charles Smith III.

The suit also accuses Mr. McKendrick of lying to obtain a warrant to search Mr. Griffith's car on Jan. 11, 1990.

"On the 9th day of January, 1990, members of the [drug committee] received information that a subject by the name of Jeff Griffith is currently involved in the use of controlled dangerous substances, mainly marijuana," the suit quotes an application for the search warrant signed by Mr. McKendrick.

The suit claims that the statement was false.

The suit also says that Mr. Bader "attempted to entice a known confidential informant to come forward with false information to fabricate probable cause."

After nothing was found in his car and he was released without being charged, Mr. Griffith called Mr. Hickman and followed his advice to have a urinalysis to prove the absence of drugs in his body.

After information about the Griffith stop was leaked to the news media by people close to Mr. Barnes, Mr. Hickman declared Mr. Griffith innocent and the matter closed.

The stops and searches of Mr. Griffith and Mr. Markle later were subjects of investigations by State Special Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli. In both cases, Mr. Hickman and members of his office were cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

But in Mr. Markle's case, Mr. Montanarelli said Mr. Hickman revealed the stop-and-search information during the debate "for political advantage" and that Mr. Hickman had caused Mr. Markle to be "depicted in his community as a criminal without benefit of a trial."

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