Norris irked by slow pace of FBI probe

City police chief seeks `confirmation' before taking action

Moonlighting investigation

Balto. Co. reinstates one officer, leaves 4 suspensions intact

September 08, 2001|By Del Quentin Wilber and Tim Craig | Del Quentin Wilber and Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris expressed frustration yesterday at the pace of a federal investigation into police moonlighting and said he did not have enough information to take disciplinary action.

"Give me some confirmation that certain people are going to be charged, then we'll act," Norris said in an interview. "I can't see suspending people when I don't know when [an indictment] is coming. I don't know what the timetable is."

Norris' wait-and-see approach was in contrast to actions taken Thursday by Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan, who suspended five officers with pay Thursday after they were questioned by federal agents in the same moonlighting investigation.

Yesterday, Sheridan reinstated a 10-year veteran detective after a review board determined there was not enough evidence to back the suspension, police sources said. The suspensions of the four other officers were upheld, sources said, but are not an indication of guilt or innocence.

County police spokesman Bill Toohey said Thursday that although he wouldn't comment on the investigation, it is departmental policy to suspend officers who may be targets of a federal probe.

Still, Sheridan's decision is drawing sharp criticism from union officials who say he's acting prematurely.

The federal investigation has been simmering for two years and focuses on the activities of about 40 city and several county police officers who worked as off-duty security guards at Staples office-supply stores in the Baltimore area and Washington, D.C., police and union sources said.

FBI agents are looking at whether officers were paid for work they never did or "double dipped" -- worked security jobs for Staples stores while on duty as police, the sources said.

The investigation's first outward signs emerged Thursday when 50 FBI agents fanned across the area, questioning officers at work and their homes, sources said.

Some of the officers have sensitive positions in the city police department, including homicide and drug units. Federal agents are also investigating at least one commander, a major, sources said.

Agents questioned one officer Thursday for about 30 minutes, the officer said on condition of anonymity. The agents asked if the officer knew a Staples' theft prevention officer and what, if any, contact or business the officer might have had with that employee.

The agents also asked what hours the officer worked at Staples, the pay scale and whether Staples employees paid the officer extra money on the side.

Rumors about the Staples probe have been swirling in both departments since federal agents began investigating about two years ago.

Union officials for both departments criticized the slow pace of the investigation and said it has hurt morale -- complaints echoed by Norris.

"I wish this would get resolved," Norris said. "It's really affecting the atmosphere of the workplace. ... It's a black eye for us."

Although no one has been charged in the investigation, Norris worries indictments would undermine some of the department's criminal cases. "Everything they've sworn to will be tainted," he said.

Gary McLhinney, president of the Baltimore police union, said yesterday that he supported "Norris' decision not to suspend the officers based on mere allegations -- they are not even mere allegations. This is an on-going investigation."

But union officials sharply criticized Sheridan's decision to suspend officers.

"This investigation is being conducted by an outside agency which to my belief has not substantiated the allegations," said Cole Weston, president of the county police union. "There have been these general allegations that have caused these premature suspensions. It greatly concerns me we are moving forward with such a degree."

Weston said yesterday's reinstatement of the 10-year-veteran shows that Sheridan suspended the officers without basis.

The detective was reinstated by Sheridan after a morning suspension hearing determined there was no indication she did anything wrong, sources say. The detective had worked at a Staples store only 10 times, according to her lawyer.

Sources said the board upheld the suspensions of four others: Cpl. William Lally, a 10-year veteran assigned to the Woodlawn precinct; Detective Amy Prime, Lally's wife, a six-year veteran who is a county homicide detective; Detective Shelley Johnston, a seven-year veteran assigned to the Employment Division; and Officer Keith Ketterman, an eight-year veteran assigned to the Garrison precinct.

Weston said all those officers have "very clean records."

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