Police request probe at barracks State force wants Curran to investigate reported thefts

November 11, 1995|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF

Maryland State Police, in an unusual move, asked Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. yesterday to investigate reported thefts from the state police barracks garage outside Cumberland, dating to 1992.

Police officials also reassigned the barracks commander, Lt. William G. Winner, and a mechanic, Robert Lewis, to other unspecified duties, pending the outcome of the investigation.

"I will not tolerate actions by any sworn or civilian employee that damage the reputation or integrity built by dedicated employees of this department," State Police Superintendent Col. David B. Mitchell said in a written statement.

"I want the allegations raised in the media reports to be addressed by an independent investigative team that will help provide me and the people of Maryland with accurate, detailed answers about what happened at the Cumberland garage," he said.

Lt. Gregory M. Shipley, a state police spokesman, said Colonel Mitchell made the unusual move because he wants state police to be above suspicion. He said outside investigation of the state police has occurred before but rarely.

How such an investigation would proceed was unclear yesterday. Mr. Curran and others in the attorney general's office, which was closed because of Veterans Day, could not be reached for comment.

Colonel Mitchell requested the action after WJLA-TV in Washington broadcast a videotape this week of a mechanic at the state police barracks -- in LaVale, west of Cumberland -- working on a vehicle registered to a trooper's wife.

Reports surfaced Thursday of an internal investigation being conducted by state police into operations at the garage. But Colonel Mitchell's announcement late yesterday indicated a stronger imperative to clarify the situation.

In addition to investigating the television report, Colonel Mitchell asked the attorney general to review a 1992 theft case involving the Cumberland barracks that has been prosecuted.

In that case, a civilian mechanic at the barracks garage and a salesman at a Cumberland auto parts store were arrested on charges of felony theft in a scheme in which auto parts billed to the state police were not used in state police vehicles.

About $25,000 in stolen property, including tires, car batteries, engine parts, tools and two lawn mowers were recovered after police executed search and seizure warrants in Maryland and West Virginia.

The mechanic, who was fired from the barracks, received five years of probation and has been making $20,000 restitution. The salesman received a suspended sentence and was fined $500.

Allegany County State's Attorney Lawrence Kelly, prosecutor at the time, could not be reached for comment.

Bernard L. Loar, county commission president, said he was satisfied with how the investigation was handled in 1992. He said he was concerned about the recent allegations.

"The state police here are doing a fine job," he said. "I talked to our state delegation, and they said they were satisfied with the investigation that had taken place. We have no problem with the state police here."

Colonel Mitchell's request also asks the attorney general to pursue restitution from anyone found to have stolen money, materials or services from the state.

The probe is to include a thorough investigation of record keeping and inventory procedures.

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