County sheriff is subject of inquiry State prosecutor looking into release of records, Pepersack's role in movie

October 06, 1998|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

The state prosecutor has begun an inquiry into Baltimore County Sheriff Norman M. Pepersack Jr. for releasing disciplinary records of a former deputy sheriff who is running against him, and for his potentially improper appearance in an amateur mystery movie.

"We're in the process of determining if the purported conduct rises to the level of misconduct," James I. Cabezas, chief of investigation for the prosecutor's office, said yesterday.

Cabezas said the initial inquiry will "determine whether there is .. sufficient cause to conduct a criminal investigation."

The two-pronged inquiry comes during a campaign between Pepersack, the eight-year Republican incumbent, and Democratic opponent Anne K. Strasdauskas, a former deputy sheriff who resigned last month to run against her boss.

Pepersack fired Strasdauskas a year ago for failing to turn in her radio on time, but she was reinstated by court order a month ago.

Cabezas said his inquiry was prompted by Strasdauskas and her lawyer, who complained to him about the release of the records and gave him a videotape of the movie.

Cabezas said he will look for "corrupt behavior" in Pepersack's involvement with the movie and in his release two weeks ago of 11 disciplinary charges the sheriff had yet to bring against Strasdauskas.

The charges ranged from obtaining motor vehicle information for personal use from police computer systems to parking in a handicap space and talking too loudly and using the telephone in a judge's chambers.

Pepersack -- who said he was unaware of the inquiry before yesterday -- said his release of the charges was legal, and said an assistant attorney general assigned to the sheriff's department advised him that he could make them public.

Strasdauskas and her lawyer have accused the sheriff of violating his rules and regulations, which order that such records be confidential.

The second part of the special prosecutor's inquiry involves "Handyman," a low-budget murder-mystery movie released a year ago in which Pepersack and three deputies appear briefly. Pepersack and the sheriff's office also were thanked in the credits.

Cabezas said his inquiry involves whether Pepersack used his office for personal gain.

The two-hour movie was filmed by attorney Joel Denning. Jack McClernan, a lawyer and former deputy sheriff who was found guilty of failure to pay child support last year, wrote the script. McClernan ran unsuccessfully for sheriff in the Democratic primary.

Pepersack said yesterday that he was not paid for his appearance in "Handyman." The filming, he said, took "no more than a half-hour" of his time.

He said his appearance in the film was in a scene in which he and three deputies acted as police officers investigating a homicide. "I had nothing to do with anything else in that film," he said.

Pepersack questioned the timing of the inquiry on the movie -- during his run for re-election.

"I find it entertaining that now it's being brought up," he said.

Strasdauskas said she turned a copy of the movie over to Cabezas last week after it appeared anonymously in a plastic bag, hanging from her mailbox.

She said she had no idea what the video was until she played it. She said she initially watched it with her elderly mother, but turned it off when a nude scene appeared on the screen.

"Law-enforcement agencies are always making movies, but I would not label this as educational," Strasdauskas said.

Pepersack said he was unaware until after the movie was released that it would have nudity. The film contains massage parlor and strip bar scenes that did not include sheriff's department employees.

Pub Date: 10/06/98

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