Calvert Co. sheriff resigns amid dispute

1st black in that post, he reportedly was focus of state investigation

April 21, 2001|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,SUN STAFF

Calvert County Sheriff Vonzell Ward, the first African-American to serve as his county's chief law enforcement officer, has resigned amid controversy over his conduct, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said yesterday.

Ward, who served for six years and was widely admired for his bravery in overcoming the crippling effects of an automobile accident 20 years ago, announced his resignation in a letter to Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

His resignation is to take effect May 4, sources said.

A spokesman for the governor declined to disclose the contents of the letter. Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill said the letter contained "a personnel recommendation," which temporarily constrained him from talking about it.

Ward could not be reached for comment. But Miller, who had expressed concern over what he termed declining morale in the sheriff's department, said he learned yesterday about the resignation from Glendening's office.

"I think this sort of ends with a department in turmoil," said Miller, a Calvert County Democrat. "I don't know if anyone asked him to leave, but there have been a number of allegations against the sheriff."

Ward, 44, has reportedly been the focus of a six-month investigation by the state prosecutor's office. State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli could not be reached for comment, but according to the Washington Post, the office has been looking into allegations that Ward harassed a young woman who had gotten into a fight with a young deputy.

The deputy resigned from the force in November after his ex-girlfriend said that he had pursued her in his squad car, handcuffed her and issued her a phony traffic ticket. The woman later said that the sheriff followed her to a bar and ordered her to take a blood-alcohol test, the Post reported.

According to the newspaper, investigators also were looking into an allegation that Ward had backed up the former deputy after the man argued with an off-duty Baltimore police officer at a downtown bar.

When contacted by police, Ward allegedly confirmed the man's story that he was still on the force -- even though he had resigned weeks earlier. Ward reportedly denied the allegation.

Ward's lawyer, William C. Mulford II, said he could not discuss the matter, but that the sheriff planned to address his staff and make a public statement Monday.

"My client and I have had discussions, and he has notified the governor's office of what he intends to do regarding his political future," he said.

"It is my understanding that he wishes to speak to his staff and he will be issuing a press release and making remarks on Monday."

Under state law, the governor names the sheriff's successor. The next election of a sheriff takes place in November 2002.

Originally a Democrat, Ward angered party members when he ran as an independent in 1994 and then changed his affiliation to Republican. He was overwhelmingly re-elected in 1998.

County Commissioner Linda L. Kelley, a staunch ally of Ward's, said she hadn't talked to him but was disappointed by reports of his resignation. She said the dispute was "politically motivated by his political opponents."

"I think that Sheriff Ward has served Calvert County well for six years and instituted a number of new programs," she said.

Ward's career in law enforcement almost ended in 1981, when a teen-age driver fleeing police struck his squad car head on. He was a state trooper at the time, having joined the state police in 1974.

Ward was trapped inside his burning car for almost a half-hour, his legs broken in 67 places. Despite numerous corrective operations, he continues to experience chronic pain and frequently needs crutches to get around.

Staff writer Andrea Siegel contributed to this article.

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