Daniel vouched for fired officer

Character reference used by man to obtain a gun permit for job

January 07, 2000|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel once wrote a letter of reference for a former city policeman fired from the force for beating a handcuffed prisoner -- a recommendation used by the former officer to obtain a permit to carry a handgun.

Daniel vouched for Richard L. Waybright in a letter submitted to the firearms licensing division of the Maryland State Police. Waybright, who once worked for Daniel, was fired in 1998 by former police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier after a three-year internal investigation.

The circumstances surrounding the issuing of the permit are under investigation by the state police, who have temporarily revoked the license. The inquiry will investigate whether the permit was issued appropriately.

Waybright, who lost his privilege to carry a gun when he was fired 17 months ago, needed a new handgun license for a job with the Harford Bureau of Investigation, a private security company based in Bel Air.

State and city law enforcement officials declined repeated requests by The Sun yesterday to make the letter public. It was written when Daniel was a colonel assigned to the mayor's office. The date could not be determined.

Daniel, who was appointed commissioner Monday, also declined to comment yesterday.

Instead, he issued a brief statement through the Police Department's chief spokesman,

Robert W. Weinhold Jr., which said: "Colonel Daniel has acknowledged writing a recommendation letter for Mr. Waybright, and he is unaware of any current issues surrounding Mr. Waybright's conduct."

Just how influential Daniel's intervention was could not be determined yesterday.

Waybright could have been able to obtain the permit without the letter from Daniel. Waybright does not have a felony conviction, nor has he been arrested on drug charges -- legal violations that would automatically disqualify him.

State police officials said they conduct criminal records and background checks on applicants that include interviews with neighbors, co-workers and other associates.

The officials said Waybright's termination from the city police force should have been taken into account.

Permit qualifications

Under Maryland State Police Permit Qualifications, investigators strive to ensure an applicant has "not exhibited a propensity for violence or instability which may reasonably render his possession of a handgun a danger to himself or other law-abiding persons."

A state police spokesman would not say whether the proper background interviews were conducted in Waybright's case.

"We have an ongoing internal investigation which we cannot comment on," said Lt. Joseph A. Barker.

A three-member Police Department trial board convicted Waybright of administrative charges of using unnecessary force when he kicked, punched and dragged a handcuffed prisoner with a heart problem in the booking area of the Eastern District station house.

Two city officers testified against Waybright and told the panel that the 18-year veteran had thrown the intoxicated man to the concrete floor, kicked him in the ribs and dragged him by holding onto the cuffs.

Charges called `garbage'

In an interview last night, Waybright called the charges "garbage" and said the prisoner head-butted him and he took action to defend himself.

"I was protecting myself from a guy who was attacking me," he said.

The trial board members -- a major, a lieutenant and an officer -- found Waybright guilty of using unnecessary force, a form of brutality deemed less severe than being excessive or brutal.

Board members recommended that Waybright be suspended for five days.

But then-Commissioner Frazier fired him, noting a policy of dismissing any officer who hits a handcuffed prisoner.

Department sources said Frazier was livid at what he deemed a light sentence handed out for the misconduct.

Waybright has long maintained he was wrongfully discharged.

"I grab you by the wrist, it's unnecessary, but it's not excessive or brutal," he said yesterday. "I'm a menace to society? I should never had been terminated. It's like I'm John Dillinger, and I'm on the loose."

Waybright was one of two officers who shot and killed a man in 1994 after the man had fired twice at them. He was also one of nine midnight shift officers investigated in 1995 for arresting people on loitering charges to collect court overtime.

The shooting was ruled justified and detectives did not find evidence to bring administrative charges in the latter case. A source familiar with police conduct issues said Waybright has a history of brutality complaints -- a charge Waybright denied yesterday.

Dennis Cox, president of the Harford Bureau of Investigation, backed his employee.

"The only thing this is doing is wasting the time of good people," Cox said. "Richard is a good guy. Richard was a good cop."

Waybright said his personal gun permit was revoked when state police received complaints from disgruntled people with whom he has had long-running disputes, including a female police dispatcher and a former security guard.

Daniel's letter, Waybright said, is not as glowing as made out to be, and he played down its importance in his obtaining the permit.

"The letter is nothing like you think it is," he said, but declined to disclose a copy.

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