Policeman sues over handling of discipline

August 25, 1993|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Staff writer

A county police sergeant who has admitted having sex with an informant has filed a suit against the department's top officers, alleging that his rights were violated during the course of disciplinary action.

The suit, filed in Anne Arundel Circuit Court yesterday, calls for all administrative charges against Sgt. Bret K. Ballam to be dropped. The officer has been found guilty of violating department rules and regulations by having sex with a narcotics informant.

A hearing on the suit is scheduled for Sept. 19. That action could postpone a Sept. 20 trial board for Sergeant Ballam.

The suit names Chief Robert P. Russell; Deputy Chiefs Robert A. Beck and Edgar F. Koch; Lt. James M. Snow, commander of the Internal Affairs Unit; and Lt. David G. Shipley, commander of the Management and Planning Section.

Department officials said that because they had not received a copy of the suit, they could not comment on it.

"We believe we have acted properly, and we will continue to act properly," said Sgt. Mark Howes, the chief's assistant.

Sergeant Ballam had been the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation in April. In May, he was interviewed by Internal Affairs investigators and admitted having sex with the informant once.

Thomas A. Pavlinic, Sergeant Ballam's lawyer, said that under the state Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, Lieutenant Snow was required to recommend some type of punishment, which the officer could accept or reject. If the officer rejects the punishment, a trial board is convened.

The suit contends that Sergeant Ballam was never given the opportunity to weigh his options before the trial board date was set.

"We only do this as a last resort," Mr. Pavlinic said. "But they have made it impossible for us to deal with them."

The suit also charges that Lieutenant Snow violated Sergeant Ballam's rights by "soliciting the opinion of Chief Russell as to what would be a proper punitive action."

Mr. Pavlinic said that under the officers' bill of rights, a punishment would be recommended by the Internal Affairs Unit, but the chief may overturn it. "How could the chief be impartial about the punishment when he has heard so many things things about the case that might not be admitted into evidence during a hearing?" Mr. Pavlinic asked.

The suit alleges that Chief Russell, Deputy Chiefs Koch and Beck and Lieutenant Shipley also violated Sergeant Ballam's rights by "apprising themselves in a piecemeal fashion as to the merits of the charges against Sgt. Ballam and by forming an opinion" about what the punishment should be.

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