Property Room Improprieties

September 07, 1994

County police could reveal as early as next week the results of their investigation of an employee who admitted to helping his girlfriend purchase illegal drugs while he worked in the department's evidence property room. Officials should attempt to clear up what so far has looked like a cover-up. Public trust is badly eroded when law enforcement officers attempt to hide their actions behind a cloak of secrecy.

In this case, the police department has refused to release details of the matter because this would violate confidential personnel records. Ray Leonardy, the civilian clerk in question, was transferred to a different office within the police department after telling investigators he had given his girlfriend money and went with her to purchase heroin.

That might have been the end of it, except that Clarke Ahler, a local defense attorney, went to court and requested Mr. Leonardy's personnel records and the results of the investigation against him. Mr. Ahler, who is representing an accused drug dealer, wants to know whether Mr. Leonardy could have tampered with evidence in the property room that could be used against the lawyer's client.

Such a possibility could produce grave consequences, not only for the case involving Mr. Ahler's client but also for other past and future prosecutions in the county. It is understandable that the police are upset over the possibility Mr. Leonardy may have tainted valuable evidence. However, the integrity of the property room will not be safeguarded by sweeping the matter under the rug.

That's what the county sought to do when it requested and was granted a gag order two weeks ago against all parties involved in the matter. This order allows County Executive Charles Ecker to state, as he did this week, that he can't discuss the Leonardy case for fear of being jailed for contempt. His supposed fear, of course, conveniently ignores the fact that it was Mr. Ecker's own law office that requested the gag order in the first place.

County officials are going to have to answer two crucial questions: How did Mr. Leonardy, a man with apparently questionable ties, come to work in such a sensitive position in the department? And how is it that he continues to work for the department after admitting involvement in an illegal activity?

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