Fired hero suing for $8 million

September 28, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

In September 1993, Eric Carroll was among four Westminster police officers honored as heroes for saving the lives of 14 people caught in a 1991 apartment fire. Three months later, Mr. Carroll was fired.

The police chief says the three-year veteran was dismissed because of a failed drug test. Mr. Carroll says a doctor, at the request of the police chief, asked him for a urine sample on false pretense, and that the urine sent to be tested was most likely someone else's but, if it was his, had been mishandled.

Mr. Carroll's accusation surfaced in an $8 million lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court. In the seven-count complaint, Mr. Carroll claims that Westminster Police Chief Sam R. Leppo and Dr. John W. Middleton violated his constitutional rights and ruined his law enforcement career.

"The arrogance of the Police Department by going behind his back to obtain a urine sample is outrageous," said David L. Moore, a Baltimore attorney who is representing Mr. Carroll.

Mr. Carroll joined the Westminster Police Department in 1989. He was the city's first black officer. In April 1991, he was one of four officers who helped save residents of a burning Main Street apartment building.

By all accounts, Mr. Carroll's career wasn't marred by disciplinary problems. "He's a cop; he feels he was a cop doing the work he was trained for," Mr. Moore said. "It was something he was very proud of."

Mr. Carroll first saw Dr. Middleton in May 1993, a day after visiting the Carroll County General Hospital emergency room. Mr. Carroll had complained of shortness of breath, chest pains and "overall weakness."

The doctor concluded, the suit says, that Mr. Carroll had high blood pressure. He prescribed medication and recommended that Mr. Carroll take a few days off and return for a follow-up visit.

The suit says that during Mr. Carroll's sick leave, someone called Chief Leppo and accused Mr. Carroll of using drugs. According to the suit, the chief decided to conduct a urinalysis on Mr. Carroll. The chief and the doctor "agreed that the specimen was to be obtained on some false pretense and then secretly submitted to a laboratory for drug testing without advising [Mr. Carroll] or obtaining his consent," the suit alleges.

The suit says Dr. Middleton told Mr. Carroll he needed a urine sample "to check it for blood." Mr. Carroll gave the sample in a paper cup.

The suit says the doctor gave the cup to a nurse and asked her to put it into a secure container to be sent to a laboratory. The nurse, the suit contends, says the urine was already in a container when the doctor gave it to her.

The container with the urine was sent to a lab and, according to the suit, came back positive for drugs. The suit does not say what the drug was, but Mr. Moore said it was marijuana or cocaine.

Confronted with the results by Chief Leppo, Mr. Carroll denied ever using drugs. He agreed to an immediate retest, which was witnesses by a fellow police officer, the suit says.

That specimen was divided, with half sent to a lab and the other half kept at the police station.

That test was inconclusive, the suit says. Mr. Carroll hired Mr. Moore, who directed him to give a third urine sample at a Baltimore laboratory. That test was negative for the presence of drugs.

The test was apparently not enough to persuade police authorities to halt their investigation of Mr. Carroll. A police trial board convened in December found him guilty of violating the department's drug policy.

Chief Leppo fired Mr. Carroll days later.

The chief's "action in terminating [Mr. Carroll'] employment based on a drug test result from a urine specimen allegedly obtained . . . through the use of fraud and deception . . . amounts to arbitrary and capricious governmental action," the suit says.

Chief Leppo declined to comment. Through a secretary, Dr. Middleton said he wouldn't talk about the suit.

That anyone would be subjected to a "secret" drug test without consent "is ridiculous," said Stuart Comstock-Gay, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. "If you suspect the guy of doing drugs, get a urine sample and do it right."

Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown wouldn't comment directly on the lawsuit, but he said it amounts to nothing more than a disgruntled employee bitter because he was fired.

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