FBI investigates threat to Arundel official

Letter to schools chiefs spurs civil rights probe

March 29, 2000|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

The FBI has launched a civil rights probe into the racially charged death threat made against Anne Arundel County schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham, authorities said yesterday.

Special Agent Peter A. Gulotta Jr., a spokesman with the FBI's Baltimore field office, said the federal law enforcement agency has been involved in the case since last week, when county police learned of the death threat made in an anonymous letter to Parham.

"We treat all civil rights cases with a high priority," Gulotta said. "We'd like to send a message that it's not taken lightly."

Gulotta said the findings of the FBI investigation will be reviewed by the U.S. attorney's office in Maryland and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Both agencies will determine if charges are filed, he said.

County and FBI law enforcement officials have "been in contact from the beginning," said Lt. Jeffrey A. Kelly, a county police spokesman.

"We're leaning on them for some of their resources," including a laboratory, Kelly said.

The death threat against Parham -- part of a letter filled with racial epithets -- followed the superintendent's decision to bus pupils from a school in a predominantly white community in southern Anne Arundel County to one in Annapolis.

Parham announced her plan Feb. 17 to relocate Mayo Elementary's 340 pupils to an empty wing at Annapolis Middle School for two years while their new school is built.

The decision met with a large amount of criticism from Mayo parents, who say their main objection is the school bus travel time.

A small number of residents of the peninsula community expressed concerns about the racial makeup of Annapolis Middle School, which has a large minority enrollment.

A group of Mayo parents appealed the plan to the county school board. Members of the group leading the appeal decried the death threat and racist slurs.

Parham, who is black, has been under police protection since March 21, when she notified county police of the letter. At a school board workshop Monday night, Parham was accompanied by two uniformed police officers and a plainclothes officer.

County investigators refuse to discuss details of the letter -- postmarked in Baltimore and typed -- but a knowledgeable source said it indicates that Parham had been stalked or followed.

"The belief is that she may have been stalked because of something that was in the letter," the source said.

Offers of rewards leading to the arrest and conviction of the letter writer have been steadily building since last weekend. The fund had reached $19,500 yesterday.

Expressing outrage at the threat, the county board of education contributed $15,000 to the fund on Monday. Civic and community organizations have donated a total of $4,500 to the fund.

Anyone with information about the death threat is asked to call Sgt. Craig Korvin, lead investigator on the case, at 410-222-8656, or Annapolis Crimesolvers at 410-267-8888.

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