Md. State Police major accused of harassment Sex advances, kissing occurred in office, female troopers say

June 26, 1996|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

A top-ranking state police officer is facing charges that he sexually harassed several female troopers while working as a supervisor of the agency's drug enforcement division, according to law enforcement sources and others familiar with the case.

Maj. Edward E. "Earl" Dennis Jr., a 22-year veteran of the department, is accused of kissing some female troopers against their will and sexually harassing others at the drug bureau in Columbia.

A lengthy internal affairs investigation substantiated the allegations, and the charges are being reviewed by a three-member state police disciplinary board, the sources said.

Dennis, one of the highest-ranking officers ever to face an internal board at the Maryland State Police, could lose his job because of the sex claims. The major did not return calls for comment yesterday; nor did his attorney, David L. Moore.

The case is a key test of new sexual harassment guidelines at the department and how cases will be handled by the new state police administration. For years, female troopers complained that harassment was widespread and that the department took little action to prevent it and punish offenders.

State Police Superintendent David B. Mitchell took over the 1,540-officer department last year after a series of articles detailing sexual harassment at the agency appeared in The Sun, and three troopers filed suits in federal court claiming the department violated laws designed to protect employees from harassment.

One of Mitchell's top priorities was to stop sexual harassment within the ranks of the agency.

Yesterday, few supervisors were talking at state police headquarters. Mitchell said through a spokesman that he could not discuss any internal affairs cases because he ultimately decides the punishment his officers will receive.

Instead, the agency issued a statement confirming that an internal review panel was examining a sexual harassment case against an officer. But the agency refused to name the officer, saying his name could be kept confidential under state public information laws.

"This is an administrative matter, and criminal charges are not involved," said Capt. Gregory M. Shipley, a state police spokesman.

The case involves about a half-dozen female troopers who claim they were harassed by the major, according to the sources. Some say he subjected them to unwanted sexual advances.

The case started when one trooper, Yolanda Stockton, 31, came forward to say that Dennis, 44, kissed her repeatedly while the two worked together in the Bureau of Drug and Criminal Enforcement in Columbia. Stockton did not return messages for comment yesterday.

Dennis, who earns $67,766 a year, is one of three majors assigned to supervise the drug bureau. Only four officers hold a higher rank than Dennis at the agency, including Mitchell, the superintendent.

After Stockton reported Dennis, other female troopers said they had been harassed by Dennis. Internal investigators interviewed the women.

Those allegations then were forwarded to the three-member panel of officers who will decide whether Dennis is guilty or innocent. If they find Dennis guilty, the panel -- a major and two lieutenant colonels -- will recommend a penalty, which could include demotion or dismissal.

After the case concludes this week or next, Mitchell will have 30 days to review the findings and Dennis' work history before deciding the degree of discipline. If he is found guilty, Dennis can appeal to Circuit Court, where details of what allegedly happened would become public.

If he is cleared, the case will be closed, and the women could go to court.

The case comes at a key time for the agency.

In October 1994, The Sun published a series of articles detailing incidents of harassment at the agency that ranged from obscene remarks to advances that bordered on sexual assaults. The articles also described how complaints were poorly investigated or not investigated at all, and the subjects of the complaints rarely were disciplined.

Last year, the agency settled a series of lawsuits with three troopers, giving one $190,000 and paying the legal fees of the others. The articles and the lawsuits, coupled with a review of sexual harassment claims at the agency by the U.S. Justice Department, prompted a sweeping leadership change.

Mitchell became the new state police superintendent, and he quickly reorganized the agency. He hired an outside consultant to review internal procedures for reporting and handling sexual harassment complaints. He also started training programs and held his commanders directly responsible for ensuring that harassment does not take place.

"You have to have a clear policy of what's acceptable and what's not acceptable," Mitchell told lawmakers in Annapolis during his confirmation hearings last year. "People who bring that issue forward won't be harassed, and you have to have a commitment on that."

Pub Date: 6/26/96

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