Search and Destroy? ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

January 19, 1993

Somebody should do something for Frank Gray. The questio is: Who?

Should Anne Arundel County, since it was county police who ruined the Brooklyn Park mechanic's chair and toolboxes when they mistakenly raided his Glen Burnie storage locker last fall? Or should Storage Express, the company that made the bookkeeping error that resulted in the whole mess?

Here's what happened: Storage Express mistakenly stamped Mr. Gray's locker number on a receipt given to accused drug kingpin Phillip Dulaney. Police found the receipt when they searched Mr. Dulaney's home and, logically, targeted the locker for a search, too. They broke into it Oct. 29 as part of a drug raid that netted 400 pounds of marijuana and $320,000, but found absolutely nothing illegal in Mr. Gray's cubicle.

So now Mr. Gray wants somebody to cough up $2,000 in damages. Although he doesn't care who it is, he blames police. "Their job is to search and seize," he says, "not search and destroy."

But the police didn't do anything wrong.

It wasn't their fault that Storage Express got the locker number wrong. And there's no evidence that police were wantonly destructive. Sure, they sliced open Mr. Gray's chair and broke the locks on his toolboxes, but how else were they supposed to tell if drugs were hidden in there?

It's Storage Express with whom Mr. Gray should have a bone to pick. It goofed -- the firm even wrote him a letter admitting the error -- and it should compensate him. The company's vice president said if Mr. Gray would send a reimbursement request, along with information proving he isn't trying to rip off the company, Storage Express might be willing to help. Then the story could end happily.

If Storage Express won't pay, should the county?

It probably isn't under any legal obligation. But, as county Central Services Director Jerry Klasmeier pointed out, "sometimes, it's a matter of fairness, of what's the right thing to do."

Two thousand dollars is a little bit of money to the county, and probably to Storage Express, too. Whether one pays, or both, or whether they split the cost 50-50, they'd be smart to honor Mr. Gray's request, willingly and happily, than risk having this little incident turn from a molehill into something more.

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