Police stunt violated policy Union leaders' letter to candidate broke rules, probe finds

'Unprofessional behavior'

December 15, 1998|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Howard County police said yesterday that four police union leaders who participated in a post-election stunt violated department policies.

The four off-duty officers walked into the County Council offices Nov. 4 and handed a defeated Republican candidate for county executive an angry letter, cardboard box and packing tape to help him leave.

"We said they violated written guidelines," Chief Wayne Livesay said yesterday. "That's unprofessional behavior."

Those officers could face a variety of punishments, but a police spokesman refused to discuss the possibilities, saying it was a private personnel matter.

Union officials said they did not violate department rules because they were exercising their right to free speech on their own time. The police union and Republican Dennis R. Schrader clashed over pay and benefits for officers, and the union supported Democratic candidate and former police Chief James Robey.

One of the four officers, Pfc. Dan Besseck, union vice president, said he learned yesterday morning that the departmental investigation was over and was told to meet with Internal Affairs investigators.

"Right now, I don't know what the discipline will be," Besseck said. "There are people who agree and disagree with what we did. Just because I'm a police officer doesn't mean I lose my constitutional rights."

Besseck said the union will consider appealing the decision through department channels and in court, if necessary.

Howard County police launched the investigation after the union officials delivered the send-off letter to Schrader, a county councilman who gave up his seat to run for executive.

Union President John Paparazzo signed the letter, which said: "Please accept this box and packing tape as a small token of the contempt that I have for you. I realize that I played a very small part in defeating you, but I will savor this for a long time to come."

Paparazzo, Besseck, union secretary Cpl. Ellsworth Jones and union treasurer Detective Bill Block participated in the stunt, which drew criticism from former County Executive Charles I. Ecker and police officers themselves.

In a statement released yesterday, police said Internal Affairs Division detectives investigated several allegations of police intimidation of Schrader supporters during the campaign. Investigators found no evidence to support the claims that officers tried to intimidate campaign workers by following them or attending a Schrader news conference.

Schrader did not return a phone call yesterday. Carol Arscott, a ++ Schrader adviser, questioned the department's findings on police behavior during the campaign.

"Why were [officers] following them then, to make sure they got home safely?" she asked. "I don't know how you inject the requisite amount of sarcasm into that" statement.

Arscott also said the officers attending the news conference were "not there to provide us with protection."

Many police officers said privately that union officials acted unprofessionally. Robey could not be reached for comment, but he has criticized the officers' behavior.

Livesay and his top commanders wrestled with the issue during the past month. In an interview Friday, Livesay said he was weighing the officers' constitutional rights against their unprofessional behavior.

After the incident, Livesay apologized to Schrader and ordered the investigation. Livesay also has requested a review of department policies relating to political campaigns, yesterday's statement said.

Pub Date: 12/15/98

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