Officials' public spat escalates Carroll sheriff urges state's attorney to consider quitting

Quarrel is months old

Brown's blast follows Barnes' criticism of recent drug arrest

November 03, 1995|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,SUN STAFF

An article in Friday's Carroll County edition incorrectly stated the amount of crack cocaine seized by county sheriff's deputies from a sport utility vehicle during the Oct. 28 arrest of a Hampstead man. The officers confiscated less than 4 grams of the drug.

The Sun regrets the error.

Carroll Sheriff John H. Brown called the county's top prosecutor incompetent yesterday and said that he should resign and take a "lesser post that may be more in keeping with his ability."

In an escalation of the months-long spat between the sheriff and State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes, Mr. Brown bristled at Mr. Barnes' public criticism of a weekend drug arrest during which sheriff's deputies seized a sports utility vehicle in a case involving less than 4 ounces of crack cocaine.


"The deputies involved in this case are now seriously concerned with the confusion and indecisiveness from the new state's attorney," Mr. Brown said in a prepared statement. "The consensus of opinion in a large segment of law enforcement around Carroll County is that Jerry Barnes may be in over his head and he may consider stepping down for the good of Carroll County to a lesser post that may be more in keeping with his ability."

Mr. Barnes responded to that suggestion by telling Mr. Brown to get out of the drug enforcement business.

"Carroll County is in danger when the sheriff, instead of sticking to his campaign pledge to stay within the realm of his duties, decides to run his own renegade police force based upon the questionable practices of the past," Mr. Barnes said in a statement. "The sheriff should leave the police work to the police of this county."

Last weekend, members of Mr. Brown's drug strike force followed a man from Hampstead to Baltimore, where the man stopped his car and allegedly purchased crack cocaine, court records say.

The strike force deputies followed the man from Baltimore back toward Carroll County. When he crossed the county line, the deputies stopped the man's 1988 Nissan Pathfinder and searched it.

After finding less than 4 grams of crack, some cocaine residue, drug paraphernalia and $876, strike force members arrested the driver and seized the Pathfinder.

Mr. Barnes, through a spokeswoman, criticized the seizure, saying that it probably was an inappropriate use of the state's drug forfeiture laws, which he said were clearly designed to nab drug dealers, not users.

Yesterday, Mr. Barnes said that although he was consulted by the strike force about the arrest, he was never asked about the seizure of the Pathfinder.

"My written guidelines based upon the law and issued to the sheriff are clear," Mr. Barnes wrote. "Law enforcement authorities interested in asset forfeiture are to target dealers in felony cases. If I had been consulted, my opinion would have been consistent with those guidelines."

The sheriff acknowledged yesterday that the man they arrested was a drug user, not a dealer.

In District Court charging documents, the arresting officer said the man "stated that he was hooked on crack for 10 years and has been going [to Baltimore] for the past year to get crack."

William Alexander Chenoweth III, 33, of Hampstead was released Saturday on $2,500 unsecured bond after being charged with possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute and possession of drug paraphernalia.

The state's attorney's office is responsible for deciding whether to pursue a forfeiture case against Mr. Chenoweth for his truck. Mr. Barnes said yesterday that such a case was unlikely.

Mr. Brown said that should he determine that the Pathfinder is subject to forfeiture and Mr. Barnes' office refused to handle the case, "I will seek assistance from the attorney general in assigning someone who has the ability to handle such matters."

The relationship between the sheriff and the chief prosecutor has soured since September, when Mr. Brown pulled his deputies out of the county's now-defunct Narcotics Task Force. At the time -- several weeks after Westminster's police chief pulled out of the task force -- Mr. Brown said that it was impossible to work with Mr. Barnes.

The two men have sparred publicly, each calling the other a liar and incompetent. Mr. Brown has been critical of Mr. Barnes' leadership style and legal acumen, while Mr. Barnes has openly questioned Mr. Brown's motives in running his own drug task force.

"This county will not and should not be forced back into the past by the sheriff and his political cronies because they do not wish to abide by the law," Mr. Barnes said yesterday.

The sheriff defended his strike force's actions. He said that although he remains against turning the Sheriff's Department into a county police force, he still is responsible for maintaining the department's drug enforcement efforts because he "inherited them."

As to the strike force's methods in the Chenoweth case, Mr. Brown said it was merely "an effective investigative technique."

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