Officers decrying release

Politics involved, they say in letter to ethics panel

Son of Owens' friend

Shanahan says move was in interest of suspect, community

September 13, 2000|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

An anonymous group of "concerned members" of the Anne Arundel police department has asked for an ethics review of their chief's decision to release without a bail hearing a county firefighter whose father is a former politician and a close friend of County Executive Janet S. Owens.

A letter sent by the group to the county ethics commission called Chief P. Thomas Shanahan's intervention that led to the release of Fire Lt. Patrick Gilligan, 35, from an eastern district station cell several weeks ago "unethical." Gilligan was released to his father for hospital evaluation and medical treatment after he was arrested and charged with burglarizing an elderly neighbor's home in Pasadena.

"Many of the rank of the file officers and supervisors" think that the release was political favoritism for Gilligan, the son of former councilman Michael F. Gilligan, a close friend of Owens and a prominent lawyer who is an attorney for Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., the letter stated.

Shanahan has defended his decision to release Gilligan not as a favor but because he said he felt immediate treatment was in the best interest of the public and of a 17-year county employee.

Because Gilligan was being charged with fourth-degree burglary, a misdemeanor, Shanahan said, he speculated there was a high possibility that Gilligan would have gone before a court commissioner and would have been released on low bond or his own recognizance that night.

However, the letter written to the commission said that because Gilligan had already been arrested and charged with drunken driving twice within a month - the second time just two days before the Aug. 23 burglary occurred, "a reasonably high bail would be expected."

Since the incident, the chief's decision has been the brunt of satire and derision in the department. Flyers circulated internally say: "In a Jam? Call Shanahan. If you have clout ... He will get you out."

Laminated, Monopoly game-like "Get of Jail Free Cards" carry the chief's picture and his comment to a reporter, "I'd do this for anyone."

Shanahan is out of town this week. Officer Thomas O'Connor, a department spokesman, said police officials declined to comment on the letter to the commission or on the flyers. But O'Conner said, "Chief Shanahan acted in the best interest of the police department and citizens of Anne Arundel County. He did what he felt was right, and he has a heightened sensitivity toward alcohol- and substance-abuse issues."

In an earlier interview, the chief said he knew Michael Gilligan only as a former county official and that he had never "had so much as a cup of coffee" with him.

According to police reports, the grandchildren of the Pasadena homeowner were terrified by the incident. The letter says, "As parents, we can not imagine the terror the children must have endured ... and we are thoroughly embarrassed by the lack of organizational concern for the victims."

The letter also takes issue with charging documents typed after the incident being rewritten and later served as a criminal summons, rather than an arrest warrant - preventing Gilligan from going to jail for any length of time.

But police officials said they presented the probable-cause documents to a District Court Commissioner who made the decision to issue a summons, which orders a future court appearance, rather than a warrant.

Paul Ingley, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge, said the letter "covered the topic well and is well-written" but that he downplayed its importance because its author was anonymous.

However, Ingley said, because he's retired, he's often asked by officers to speak on their behalf. "I can say things they can't. They're afraid of retribution from higher-ups," Ingley said. " And it's not unheard of."

Ingley said some officers remain concerned about the public's and officers' safety because, just a week ago, Gilligan was again in trouble, knocking on doors in Pasadena and saying he was looking for a "teen dance," according to police reports.

He was taken home by a police sergeant on Sept. 5, when the homeowner who called to report a disoriented man in the neighborhood declined to file a complaint. The mobile crisis team was called to the house.

According to police reports, Gilligan returned to a non-restrictive half-way house for substance abusers.

Betsy K. Dawson, the executive director of the Ethics Commission, said its investigative process is confidential and only findings of ethical violations are made public.

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