Cleared of crimes, fired deputy sues

July 26, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A Howard County sheriff's deputy, fired last month after officials discovered he was convicted 26 years ago on charges of which he since has been cleared, filed a lawsuit last week to get his job back.

Lawrence Wilmer, 49, of North Laurel wants the court to grant him an injunction that will block his dismissal and the revocation of his state police certification, which he needs to work as a deputy.

The Maryland Police Training Commission revoked Mr. Wilmer's certification June 7, noting that the deputy did not meet the state's qualifications for deputies because, as a felon, he was prohibited from carrying a firearm.

But two weeks later, a Prince George's County Circuit judge cleared Mr. Wilmer of his conviction on theft and breaking and entering charges, according to the suit filed July 19 in Howard Circuit Court.

Mr. Wilmer's attorney, Edward Smith Jr. of Baltimore, said he immediately notified state officials that Mr. Wilmer's criminal record had been cleared. But the commission proceeded with the revocation in a formal written ruling issued July 11.

"They're upholding charges that no longer exist," Mr. Smith said.

Donald Hopkins, executive director of the Police Training Commission, said the commission may reconsider Mr. Wilmer's dismissal at its meeting in September. Mr. Wilmer, meanwhile, does not have a job to support his family, Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Hopkins is one of four defendants listed in Mr. Wilmer's suit. The others are Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which oversees the commission; Col. Larry Tolliver, the state police superintendent who is chairman of the commission; and the state of Maryland.

No court proceedings have been scheduled for Mr. Wilmer's suit. Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner was assigned to the case after Howard County's judges excused themselves from the case because it involves a personnel matter in the sheriff's office.

Mr. Wilmer was arrested in 1967 after buying diapers and other children's items that had been stolen from a warehouse, Mr. Smith said. He was charged with receiving stolen goods, theft and breaking and entering. Mr. Wilmer was not accused of actually burglarizing the warehouse.

He pleaded guilty to receiving stolen goods, but later missed a court date. The judge handling his case struck his plea and set the case for trial on all the charges, Mr. Smith said.

At the trial, in 1968, Mr. Wilmer was convicted of theft and breaking and entering -- but not receiving stolen goods, Mr. Smith said. He was given a suspended prison term and ordered to complete five years of probation.

Mr. Wilmer was hired by the sheriff's office in 1981 to carry out routine duties, such as serving court subpoenas and guarding prisoners. He earned about $38,000 a year.

Mr. Smith said his client misunderstood what charges he was convicted of, and mistakenly reported to officials that he was convicted only of receiving stolen goods, a misdemeanor.

The current Howard County sheriff, Michael Chiuchiolo, discovered Mr. Wilmer's conviction on theft and breaking and entering while his office was conducting background checks on its deputies, according to court papers.

"I cannot explain why past administrations overlooked this obvious record, but once it came to my attention and was confirmed through investigation, I had no choice but to act in the best interest of this office and Howard County," Sheriff Chiuchiolo said in a May 3 letter to Mr. Smith.

The letter, provided as an exhibit with Mr. Wilmer's suit, says the sheriff in March told Mr. Wilmer that he had until June 30 to "straighten the situation out" regarding his criminal record or he would be fired.

Mr. Wilmer then hired Mr. Smith, who obtained an order from Prince George's Circuit Court to enable the prosecution to reopen the case and drop the criminal charges.

"It is ironic that the state of Maryland has relieved Mr. Wilmer of any felony conviction by virtue of its actions while refusing to recognize its own obligation to act responsibly," the suit says.

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