Police chief cannot be forced to go on leave

July 21, 1995|By Mike Farabaugh and Brenda Buote | Mike Farabaugh and Brenda Buote,Sun Staff Writers

A Harford Circuit judge ruled yesterday the city of Havre de Grace and city officials cannot force the chief of police to go on administrative leave while an investigation into unspecified allegations against the chief is being conducted.

In effect, Judge Maurice W. Baldwin's decision permanently extended a temporary injunction that he granted William L. Lamphere, the police chief, on June 30.

Judge Baldwin cited the city's charter, which gives the city's mayor the power to appoint the chief of police. The charter also states that the chief of police can only be removed after a hearing and if two-thirds of the City Council votes to support that action.

"That's all Chief Lamphere really wants," said John E. Kelly, attorney for Chief Lamphere, who has spent 27 years as a law enforcement officer. "If there are problems, [the mayor should] charge the chief, and he will withstand any barrage against him, but let him have the hearing that the City Charter guarantees him," Mr. Kelly said.

Judge Baldwin agreed. Once the chief has been appointed, the City Charter "clearly charges him to exercise and discharge his duties until removed from office," the judge said. "The chief can't do that, if he's on a leave with pay."

Judge Baldwin said that forcing the chief to go on a paid leave injures him, even if he later is exonerated. The judge said the damage could be irreparable and could cause the chief to lose control of his department.

City Attorney Frederick J. Hatem Jr. argued that the city was at risk to be sued if it made the allegations public. He said the city only wanted to protect its liability and the rights of Chief Lamphere by asking him to take a "paid vacation" while an independent investigation was conducted.

Mr. Hatem said the investigation would be tainted if the chief JTC were to be allowed to stay in command over the "substantial number" of police officers who were making the allegations against the chief.

Judge Baldwin said it was very unlikely that Chief Lamphere, who is now "living under a microscope," would do anything to bring any more negative attention to himself.

Mayor Gunther Hirsch initially had ordered city officials not to discuss the Lamphere case. At Monday's City Council meeting, he read a statement, discussing the case publicly for the first time. He mentioned no specific allegations against the chief.

The mayor is on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

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