Trooper forced to resign after inquiry into hazing

July 31, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

Richard Alexander now knows that the Maryland State Police is far different than it was when he came up through the ranks eight years ago.

Last month he was forced to resign as a trooper in the canine unit at the Westminster barracks after incriminating himself in an internal affairs investigation of a hazing incident last year.

Mr. Alexander, 33, is unemployed because, he said, "I did something to a trooper candidate that someone did to me when I was going through" the police academy.

When a sergeant buddy assigned to the Maryland State Police Training Academy asked Mr. Alexander to join him on an inspection of trooper candidates one night last fall, the eight-year veteran accepted.

"He asked me to come down. I knew him to be by-the-book, so I went," Mr. Alexander said last week. "Now, I am so sorry that any of this happened."

Mr. Alexander, his attorney and a formal appeal of his forced resignation filed recently in Carroll Circuit Court give this version of the incident: The former trooper was walking past a candidate's bunk and noticed that the pillowcase was arranged sloppily at the foot of the bed.

When Mr. Alexander asked the candidate if the pillowcase was )) his, he nodded.

"Where you from?" Mr. Alexander asked.

"From Michigan," said the candidate, who was not named in the suit nor by state police or Mr. Alexander's attorney, Mykel Hitselberger.

"Do they have the Klan where you're from? Well, here's a hood for you," Mr. Alexander said, as he put the pillowcase on top of the candidate's head. Then, according to Mr. Hitselberger, Mr. Alexander ordered the candidate to drop to the floor and do some push-ups.

Both Mr. Alexander and the candidate are white, and, apparently, the comment wasn't taken or meant to be racist, Mr. Alexander said.

"I'm dumbfounded," the former trooper said from his Westminster home. "Things were so much more graphic when I was in the academy. People want their troopers to be mentally strong, to be hardened. You're supposed to get it in the academy, so that when you left, you knew that nothing would get to you."

A complaint was filed against Mr. Alexander, and an internal affairs investigation was ordered. Mr. Alexander was ordered to answer questions about the pillowcase affair and, he and his attorney said, he complied.

"A trooper cannot be compelled to testify at a trial board, but he can be compelled to give a statement to a superior," Mr. Hitselberger said.

But when the investigation was over, the sergeant conducting ++ the probe didn't believe Mr. Alexander's account and recommended bringing administrative charges against him.

Mr. Alexander's statement to the internal affairs investigator resulted in his departure from the police force.

He was charged with several administrative counts, including discourtesy and violating the agency's communications policies. But the charge that caused his ouster was that of making a false report, an infraction that carries severe sanctions for a state trooper.

Mr. Alexander insists that he told the truth about his encounter with the candidate: He placed the pillowcase on the candidate's head. The candidate said the pillowcase was placed over his head.

"I was telling the truth," Mr. Alexander said. "Why would I lie?"

A trial board heard evidence and found Mr. Alexander guilty of all of the charges, including the false report charge. It recommended that he be suspended for 20 days.

Col. Larry W. Tolliver, state police superintendent, gave him another choice: resign or be fired.

Colonel Tolliver could not be reached for comment last week. Lt. Gregory M. Shipley, a state police spokesman, would confirm only that Mr. Alexander joined the state police in 1986 and resigned June 20, 1994. He declined to comment on the appeal or on Mr. Alexander's work record.

Lt. Roy A. Neigh, Mr. Alexander's last immediate supervisor at the Westminster barracks, also declined to comment.

Mr. Hitselberger notes the Catch-22 inherent in his client's situation.

"The superintendent has said that false report was a terminating offense," Mr. Hitselberger said. But he believes that a false report -- such as lying on a statement of charges or placing inaccurate information in a case file -- is different from a statement made in a situation not connected to a trooper's official duties.

Mr. Alexander sees it more plainly: Compelling a criminal defendant to make an incriminating statement

usually would void the case against him.

"I think the state police are more worried about civil suits 'N because somebody's feelings are hurt in the academy," Mr. Alexander said. "There's a public out there that wants to hurt you sometimes. Now I worry more about the administration than the public."

The academy incident is not the first time Mr. Alexander and Colonel Tolliver have been on opposite sides of a personnel issue. The superintendent turned down Mr. Alexander's request for a transfer; Mr. Alexander appealed; and a state employment board overturned Colonel Tolliver's decision.

For now, Mr. Alexander said he is trying to finish building a home and find some work. He has tried other police agencies, all of which have rejected him. The reason, he said, is that if he should win his appeal he likely would return to his $35,000-a-year job with the state police.

"What do you do when you're hitting your mid-30s and you're unemployed?" he asked. His appeal seeks reinstatement, back wages and a reversal of the false report finding. No trial date has been set.

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