Police lieutenant wins reprieve on transfer

Suit says move unfair, made after publicity on domestic violence issue

January 06, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A state police lieutenant won a court-ordered reprieve yesterday after charging that he has been unfairly punished amid intense criticism of the agency's tracking of domestic violence orders.

In a lawsuit, Lt. David Barcroft says officials want to transfer him from Pikesville to a "made-up" position in Salisbury, a seven-hour, round-trip commute from his Hampstead home.

A ruling filed yesterday guarantees that Barcroft -- who supervised grant money used to maintain the domestic violence database -- will remain at the Annapolis barracks until a hearing determines whether his transfer was fair.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert E. Cadigan ordered police to file a written response by Jan. 24 explaining reasons for the transfer.

Barcroft was transferred after news reports said court orders were not being recorded in a computer system set up to keep firearms away from defendants in domestic abuse cases.

The system was criticized in September after Wayne Spicknall was charged with fatally shooting his son, 2, and daughter, 3, with a 9 mm handgun he purchased at a College Park pawnshop.

The Howard County Sheriff's Department acknowledged it neglected to enter a restraining order against Spicknall obtained by the childrens' mother that would have prevented the purchase.

Barcroft, a 23-year veteran, requested the hearing in a lawsuit he filed this week after he received orders Dec. 21 transferring him to the Salisbury barracks.

Barcroft alleges that the transfer is punitive and violates his rights to due process because he was not given a hearing.

"This punitive transfer has been ordered to be imposed upon Lieutenant Barcroft, even though he was never charged with, much less found guilty of, any administrative disciplinary violations," the lawsuit alleges.

Maj. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said transfers are not unusual. Barcroft was one of several officers transferred Dec. 21, he said. "This was not a disciplinary transfer," Shipley said.

The Spicknall case sparked news reports that as many as half the people subject to restraining orders in Maryland are not listed in databases state police use to conduct background checks for gun purchases. About 17,000 people, most of them women, applied for restraining orders against a spouse or partner in 1998.

The reports -- which prompted legislative hearings -- also said many protective orders were not being logged into computers for several weeks or months, and that state police knew about the problem.

As an assistant commander in the Communications Services Division, Barcroft supervised grants for the domestic violence database. He was moved to an administrative position in Pikesville Oct. 7, a few days after news reports on the database, the suit says.

After newspaper accounts of the problems continued to appear, Barcroft was "interrogated" for two hours in November and transferred to a "made-up" position in Salisbury, the lawsuit says.

Barcroft declined to comment, but Joe Freeman Shankle, his lawyer, said the position is the only one of its kind in the state police.

Shipley said Barcroft is to work on specific projects on the Eastern Shore, such as school safety.

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