Police power and sexual favors Area law enforcement rocked by several cases involving abuse.

August 08, 1996

AMONG THE MOST disturbing of crimes are those committed by law enforcement officers who are granted broad powers to protect the public from unlawful acts. An officer sinks to the lowest depths of criminality when he abuses his authority to satisfy a prurient appetite.

Yet, last week, three stories of sexual misconduct, or allegations of them, against law enforcement officers made area headlines.

First came the story of Edward E. "Earl" Dennis, who lost his high-ranking job as a State Police major after an administrative board found that he had sexually harassed six female troopers and a departmental secretary.

Then came the conviction in Anne Arundel Circuit Court of 17-year county police veteran Michael Dennis Feeney on charges of attempting to sexually assault a Severna Park woman while he was moonlighting as a security guard.

Meanwhile, in Howard County a female inmate told Sun reporter Ivan Penn that she had oral sex with a male jail guard at the county's Detention Center. As many as five guards may have received sexual favors from female inmates. Things were bad enough at Howard's Detention Center, which already was staggering from legal action brought by the family of an inmate who hanged himself after officers failed to detect he was suicidal.

Howard County had already endured an episode of sexual misconduct by an authority figure last winter when a police sergeant was convicted of sexually assaulting a drunken and disoriented woman in his police cruiser.

Perhaps the tough action taken by the State Police in firing Mr. Dennis will send a message that will reverberate in departments throughout Maryland, that sexual misconduct by officers will not be condoned. State Police Superintendent David B. Mitchell could have accepted the recommendation of the panel that convicted the former major -- to merely demote him a rank and order him to undergo sensitivity training. But he realized how serious this behavior was.

James N. Rollins, director of the Howard County detention center, also set the proper tone by ordering an immediate police investigation of the inmate's allegations. Sexual abuse or harassment by law enforcement officers, or anyone else, cannot be condoned.

Pub Date: 8/08/96

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