Report on police major details sexual charges Allegations surfaced in board hearings on harassment

July 14, 1996|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

The highest-ranking state police supervisor ever to be charged with sexual harassment at the agency allegedly exposed himself to a female trooper in his office and forced her hand between his legs while sitting in a squad car.

Those and other previously undisclosed allegations by six women are part of a secret report detailing a series of incidents in the case against Maj. Edward E. "Earl" Dennis Jr., a 22-year veteran of the force who was convicted last month by a state police board of sexual harassment charges. The Sun obtained a copy of the report.

Despite the claims, some of which could constitute possible sex crimes, the internal board recommended that Dennis be demoted and transferred from his high-profile post rather than -- be fired from the force.

Superintendent David B. Mitchell, who took over the state police last year with a pledge to stop sexual harassment at the agency, can overrule the board or accept its recommendation. He has 30 days to decide, and he has declined to comment before issuing a ruling.

Dennis has refused to talk about the case. His attorney said Friday that the major never meant to harass anyone. He said the contact between the women and the major was consensual. He said Dennis never exposed himself, and once the women asked him to refrain from his behavior, he did.

"If there was anything that he did or said, and the women said, 'Don't do this,' he immediately stopped," attorney David L. Moore said. "Nothing happened here that constitutes sexual harassment."

Dennis, 44, has been removed from the Bureau of Drug and Criminal Enforcement in Columbia, where he served as one of three supervisors. He is now working in a desk job pending the outcome of the case.

The 37-page report, prepared by the three-officer board, says Dennis touched the breast of one female trooper and placed his tongue in her ear. It says he hugged and kissed other female co-workers against their wishes, and he repeatedly ran his fingers through the hair of a state police secretary.

The report recounts four days of closed-door hearings at state police headquarters in Pikesville last month to determine whether Dennis should be convicted or acquitted of sexual harassment charges and conduct unbecoming an officer. The board convicted him and recommended that he be demoted one rank, transferred and ordered to take part in a sensitivity training program.

One of the earliest incidents described in the report allegedly took place in a patrol car in 1982, when a female trooper fresh from the police academy was assigned to work with Dennis in Glen Burnie.

The woman, who left the agency in 1994, testified that Dennis took her hand and placed it "on his pants, over his penis," the report says. She said she and other women were afraid to file a complaint against Dennis, one of the highest-ranking members of the 1,540-officer agency.

The woman told the board that Dennis also pinched her buttocks and touched her breasts on at least 20 different occasions between 1987 and 1994. She said that while working in the state police drug bureau in Columbia, Dennis exposed himself to her in his office.

"She stated that she never knew what to expect in his office," the report says.

Dennis testified on his own behalf, telling the board that the woman was a flirt who always asked him about the size of his penis. He said he placed the woman's hand on his thigh in the patrol car that day and told her: "This is as close as it's going to get."

He also denied exposing himself. He said he pulled down his zipper, nothing more. The report says that Dennis did pull down his zipper, but the findings make no mention of whether he exposed himself.

The Sun is withholding the name of the woman because she could have been the victim of two possible misdemeanor sex crimes -- indecent exposure and battery.

Capt. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said Dennis was never investigated for possible criminal wrongdoing because no one filed a complaint. He also said the agency could not open a case because the one-year statute of limitations has long since passed.

The woman's claims were part of a pattern, the state police report shows.

Cpl. Margaret Shank, a 14-year veteran, told the panel that Dennis placed his hand underneath her arm and touched her breast in 1989. She said she yelled out in the office, and the major, concerned that someone would hear her, told her to be quiet, according to the report.

nTC In another incident, Shank, who did not return phone messages, told the board that Dennis kissed her ear and placed his tongue inside. She said she told him: "If he ever did that again that [I] would file a complaint."

Dennis testified that he didn't touch Shank. And he had this explanation: He said he did kiss the corporal on the side of her face, but "because he gagged, his tongue went into her ear."

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