Lawsuit disputes officer's firing

He lost job after telling state police security overstepped authority

November 21, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

A former Gibson Island police officer whose complaints prompted a state police investigation into security procedures in the gated Anne Arundel County community has filed a lawsuit claiming he was wrongfully fired for reporting the problems.

A state police investigation corroborated some of the officer's allegations that the island's security staff was overstepping its authority. But authorities did not press charges against island officials or security staff, and state police said this week that their investigation was closed after island security operations passed a surprise inspection.

Richard L. Weippert Sr., 45, of Glen Burnie is suing Gibson Island Corp., the private corporation that operates the community, saying that he was fired for reporting that security guards were regularly driving in cars belonging to the island's specially commissioned police force, wearing police uniforms and making illegal traffic stops.

Weippert worked as an officer on the island's force, which gave him limited police powers, for more than four years before he was fired in October last year.

Weippert said he tried to persuade then-chief of police and island officials to address the problem of security staff operating as if they were police officers. When nothing was done, Weippert said, he went to the state police. Two weeks later, he was fired.

The lawsuit, filed by Weippert's lawyer, Alan H. Legum, last month in Anne Arundel Circuit Court, claims that Weippert was fired in retribution for whistle-blowing.

"I knew what they were doing was wrong," Weippert said in an interview this week. "It wasn't right for them to be taking away people's civil rights - and that's what they did when they stopped all those people illegally.

"If I had known what was going on and not reported it, I would've been violating my oath to the state of Maryland to serve and protect and uphold the law," he said.

Gibson Island officials have not yet been served with Weippert's lawsuit, which seeks more than $1 million in damages. Gibson Island Corp. President James Morrison declined to comment on the suit. Island officials have refused to say why Weippert was terminated.

Gibson Island has police officers commissioned by the state and security guards, who man a gatehouse on the causeway that separates the community of 170 houses from the rest of the county.

Weippert's complaints prompted a state police investigation that found that dozens of motorists had been stopped for speeding by Gibson Island security guards who had no authority to pull them over or write them warning tickets. Weippert also gave state police photographs of security guards wearing police uniforms.

Although investigators substantiated Weippert's allegations, the state attorney general's office filed no criminal charges against the island or its employees and returned the matter to state police to handle administratively.

A new security staff - led by a new police chief - passed a surprise inspection by the state police in August, said Lt. Nicholas Paros, who oversees the state police division that licenses and regulates private police and security forces. He said a review of the security patrol's records showed no recurrence of the problems found by state police in their initial review.

State police investigators have since closed their case on Gibson Island, Paros said, adding, "Everything seems to be in order."

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