Robey didn't know ex-officer's past before hiring Then-Howard chief says he was not aware of sex harassment case

October 20, 1998|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

A former Baltimore County police officer who was disciplined for an incident that allegedly involved harassing a female job applicant was hired by the Howard County Police Department last year to interview prospective employees.

The then-police chief, James N. Robey, now Democratic candidate for Howard County executive, said he didn't know the background of Steven J. DeBoy Sr. before he was given a contract to conduct background investigations last fall. But he said others knew of the 1989 incident and decided it did not disqualify him.

"I wish they had made me aware of it," Robey said, adding that he still might have hired him.

DeBoy, a Democratic candidate for House of Delegates in District 12, which includes parts of Baltimore and Howard counties, said he "was completely up front" with Howard police officials. He said he made an inappropriate gesture to a female officer and was disciplined with a transfer from the department's Applicant Investigation Unit to patrol.

The female officer's 1990 federal lawsuit against the department alleged mistreatment after DeBoy was disciplined. She claimed that he also made an offensive remark to her and suggestive remarks about a female job applicant during the incident, which DeBoy denies. The suit was settled in 1991 for $245,000; DeBoy was not a defendant.

"I'm not proud of it, but I moved on. It's not a continuing course of conduct. That was my only blemish in my 20-plus year police career," he said.

Though the Howard department has not responded to a public records request about how DeBoy's application was handled, Robey said yesterday he did not sign the papers hiring him. He said Maj. Mark Paterni, acting as chief while Robey was on vacation, approved DeBoy. Paterni was out of town and unavailable for comment yesterday.

Robey said he would have liked to have known about the incident.

"Not that he wouldn't have been hired, but I would have still liked to have had the opportunity to read the report from Baltimore County," he said. "If you're involved in an argument with somebody and you give them an obscene gesture, is that something that should cause you not to get hired? I don't know, especially if it happened -- what -- almost 10 years ago."

County Executive Charles I. Ecker expressed similar sentiments, though he said the job for which DeBoy was hired merits extra attention to issues of sensitivity. Rufus Clanzy, administrator for the county's Office of Human Rights, said it's "difficult to second-guess" the department's decision to hire DeBoy, but he personally would have a problem hiring such a candidate.

"It would be very difficult for me to accept someone like that in a sensitive position, especially the position of an investigator," Clanzy said.

As one of the department's five background investigators, DeBoy interviews job applicants, their neighbors and references. He sometimes visits applicants' residences to get a sense of their home life.

"I'm a professional. I go out and do my job," said DeBoy, who worked for a private company in Prince George's County before coming to Howard for the $17-an-hour position last November.

He intimated that Republicans have spread information of the incident to undermine his candidacy: "It's unfortunate that people have to try to pass this kind of information, because I don't think it has any bearing on my ability to be a background investigator for Howard County, nor do I think it has any bearing on my candidacy for the House of Delegates."

Pub Date: 10/20/98

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