Army career of weapons suspect eyed

Investigators seek origin for hoard of military ordnance

`Not available to public'

Officials say Laney had no legal access to guns, explosives

July 19, 2000|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Investigators are checking two-time Howard County sheriff candidate Richmond Laney's Army background as they catalog the military weapons and explosives found in his Ellicott City home.

"Occasionally, officers run across automatic weapons during searches, but not to this degree," said Sherry Llewellyn, spokeswoman for the Howard County Police Department. "The really unique thing here is the explosives; they've never seen a case like this before."

The state fire marshal's office is looking into the origin of the more than 80 military explosives found in Laney's home in the 3600 block of Fels Lane. Because its facilities are inadequate to safely store such a large amount of explosives, the weapons are being held by the Army at nearby Fort Meade.

"We don't normally find this many pieces or this order of explosives," said Allen Gosnell, a spokesman for the state fire marshal's office. "These explosives are not available to the public, and we're trying to find out how he got them."

The Army's Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit is also interested in the origin of the explosives, because they are made available only to the military, Gosnell said.

Some of the weapons or weapons parts taken from Laney's home will be analyzed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' firearm technology branch in Washington, said Special Agent Mike Campbell, a spokesman for the ATF's Baltimore office.

Campbell said the technology branch can determine whether the weapons parts found in the home are illegal, as they would be if they could be used to convert a gun into a fully automatic weapon.

Laney, 43, has been charged with one count of possession of a destructive device and one count of reckless endangerment.

If convicted of the first charge, Laney could be fined up to $250,000 and spend 25 years in prison. The reckless endangerment charge carries a penalty of up to $5,000 and up to five years in prison. Laney was being held in the Howard County Detention Center on $250,000 bond.

Police anticipate more charges being brought against Laney, perhaps as many as 60, Howard County Detective Keith Fisher told state prosecutors Monday.

Investigators trying to figure out how Laney acquired the weapons are examining his military career.

According to Army records, Laney has almost 20 years of military experience. He entered a reserve unit specializing in supplies in 1978. From 1982 to 1984, Laney served in the National Guard. He was on active Army duty from 1984 to 1987.

Laney's final military service was in the civil affairs unit of the Army Reserve from 1987 to 1997. That body assists foreign countries with post-war reconstruction efforts.

Maj. Jon Dahms, a media relations officer for the Office of the Chief of the Army Reserve, said Laney would have been issued a pistol through the Army Reserve, but that as a member of a reserve unit, he would not have been issued ammunition.

As an Army Reserve captain, Laney would not have had access to the weapons found in his home, Dahms said.

"The weapons are under strict control here; they must be signed out, taken to the range, cleaned and returned all in the same day," he said.

The Army takes monthly weapons inventories, Dahms said, and it is "quite a big deal" when any weapon is found missing.

Natalie Goldring, executive director of the Program on General Disarmament at the University of Maryland, said she frequently hears stories about military facilities with missing inventory.

With about 1.4 million active military personnel, even a small percentage of people stealing results in thousands of unaccounted-for weapons.

"My guess is that this is far more common than any sane person would be comfortable with," she said. "We truly just don't know how many weapons - legal or illegal - there are in the United States."

In addition to his military activities, Laney was involved in politics. He ran for Howard County sheriff in 1990 and 1994. He also served on the Howard County Republican Central Committee from 1990 to 1994.

Carol Arscott, chairwoman of the Republican Central Committee for two years while Laney served on the committee, said he was a "quiet, bland member of the group who participated very little."

The quiet Ellicott City neighborhood where Laney lived offers privacy to its residents. A number of the houses in the area are unoccupied, and many of the residents are elderly.

Residents at home in the area yesterday said they didn't see Laney ever bring anything suspicious into his home.

Sun staff writers Jamie Smith Hopkins and Gail Gibson contributed to this article.

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