Former officer enters plea of no contest to theft charge

He said he was activated in Reserve, got paid leave

Anne Arundel

February 24, 2005|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A suspended Anne Arundel County police officer pleaded no contest yesterday to a charge that he wrongly collected his county salary while not coming to work under the pretense of having been activated for Army Reserve duty in Iraq.

Andrew Barnett Jr., 49, did not acknowledge guilt in the unusual agreement that included county prosecutors and the Police Department.

Under the deal, prosecutors reduced a felony theft charge to a misdemeanor, the department accepted the resignation Barnett submitted a year ago, and the county is deducting about two months of pay from the value of leave that he was owed.

At the time, police officers called to active military duty were granted paid leave during the time they served in the military.

He was also placed on 30 days' unsupervised probation.

Barnett, described by his lawyer as a decorated eight-year member of the force, made no statement as he stood before Circuit Judge Joseph P. Manck, who called the plea a "proper" resolution.

Deputy State's Attorney William D. Roessler told the judge that Barnett, falsely claiming he was activated for overseas duty, received about $6,000 in paid leave.

About two months

During that time - about two months between December 2003 and February 2004 - he neither reported to his job as a patrolman in the department's Western District nor served overseas, the prosecutor said.

Though Barnett provided documentation early on of a transfer to a Reserve unit, he produced no paperwork to show he had been activated, Roessler said.

He added that Barnett told department officials in November 2003 that he would be going to Iraq or Afghanistan. A check in early 2004 by police officials showed that they did not receive the military paperwork and asked Barnett for it.

In February 2004, Roessler said, Barnett claimed that he had returned from Iraq. Barnett's lawyer argued that his client never made such a claim, and that he had reported only to his Reserve unit in Riverdale.

"The state is maintaining that he didn't go to Iraq and was granted leave time for going to Iraq," Roessler said outside court.

He said Barnett got the time and money for "being on military leave, and he was not."

Unit mobilized

The Reserve unit had been mobilized and was sent overseas in spring 2003.

The department launched an internal investigation.

Barnett was suspended without pay; his resignation was not accepted.

Barnett's lawyer, John H. Robinson III, said his client was awaiting placement in a language school in Colorado and went to Riverdale during the period in question "almost daily." With little to do there, Barnett sought to return to work but was turned down, Robinson said.

Robinson told the judge that his client wanted to put the issue behind him and his family, avoid a trial and thus spare police officers from having to potentially testify as defense witnesses.

The officers, the attorney said, were "getting pressure from the Police Department about cooperating with our defense."

Outside the courtroom, Robinson said that Barnett expressed concern for potential ramifications for the careers of those officers, and said there were people in the department who did not like Barnett.

"He was very disappointed in the way he was treated by the Police Department - a police department he truly cared about," Robinson said.

Chief responds

Police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan responded to Robinson's remarks later.

He called the accusations against the department "ludicrous" and challenged Robinson to produce proof that officers were being pressured or to tell the department so that it could investigate.

"It sounds like a desperate statement made by a desperate defense attorney to represent his client when they have nothing else," Shanahan said.

If Barnett felt he was not at fault, the chief said, he should have gone to trial.

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