Arms suspect puzzles officials

Political observers, sheriff recall former candidate

`Never really fit in'

July 17, 2000|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

The Ellicott City man who will appear at a bail review hearing today on charges that he hoarded weapons in his home was an almost obsessive visitor to the Howard County Courthouse, say court officials. They called his behavior "strange" and "disconcerting."

Richmond C. Laney, once a serious contender for the Howard County sheriff's job, has remained in police custody since authorities found the weapons, including grenades and a rocket launcher, in his home Friday.

He is being held on one count of possession of destructive devices and one count of reckless endangerment.

A former Army Reserve captain and member of the state Property Tax Assessment Appeals Board, Laney won the 1990 Republican primary for county sheriff on a platform of "cleaning up" the office after two sheriff's deputies were fired for using Nazi salutes.

He lost in a relatively close race, and returned to the political scene two years later to run for school board, where he came in last out of eight candidates with only 3 percent of the vote.

By the time he made a second attempt at the sheriff's post in 1994, his support in the community and among fellow Republicans had declined considerably. His campaign took a strange turn from the start, with him vowing not to spend more than $300, which he used to print fliers to be distributed in shopping malls.

He tried to revive his 1990 platform criticizing the sheriff's office for its handling of the Nazi-salute scandal - until it was revealed that one of the deputies involved in that case was working for his campaign.

"When he first ran, no one I knew had ever heard of him," said Darrel E. Drown, a former Republican councilman. "He didn't do what typical politicians do - go out and meet people and get to know the party. It was the strangest way of getting into politics I've ever seen.

"He showed up in politics, but he never really fit in," Drown said. "And then [after 1994], we never heard from him again."

He divorced his wife, and when she took him to court for refusing to pay child support, he began acting as his own attorney in the case. For the past several years, he has spent days at a time brooding over law books in the courthouse library, officials there said.

He was a quality-control engineer at Westinghouse Electric Corp. in the 1980s, but those who saw him regularly at the courthouse said Laney did not appear to have a steady job. Sheriff's deputies said they often forcibly removed him from the building when it was time to close as he yelled at them that he had a right to stay after hours.

He issued subpoenas in his child-support case against the judge hearing the matter, the county attorney and the county chief of police, apparently convinced that they were conspiring against him. When it came time for the state to subpoena him, deputies said, he would disappear from his home and the courthouse for weeks at a time.

Laney's behavior caught the eye of Sheriff Charles M. Cave.

"I had no idea he was keeping all those weapons down in his basement, but boy, it doesn't surprise me," Cave said.

Cave issued an order that he was to be alerted whenever Laney was in the courthouse.

Laney lost his case this year and was ordered to pay support and spend several months in jail. He was about to be released when the weapons were discovered.

On March 2, while he was locked away, the Department of Veterans Affairs foreclosed on his home in the 3600 block of Fels Lane in Ellicott City, where he had lived since 1988 when he and his then wife bought the house for $98,000.

On Friday, personnel from the VA went to his home to remove his belongings and found the grenades and rocket launcher, as well as a disassembled .50-caliber machine gun, other weapons and ammunition. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the FBI and the Army's Criminal Investigations Unit are investigating, hoping to answer why and how Laney amassed the weapons.

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