County sheriff had withheld e-mail release

Messages tied to case of Md. official, prostitute

April 16, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

When it released thousands of e-mails linking a state official to a prostitute recently, the Harford County Sheriff's Office withheld information about a corrections officer whose alleged liaisons with the woman led to her arrest.

The corrections officer, who has worked for the county for more than five years, was suspended and then resigned in November shortly after police launched an internal investigation into his involvement with Valerie Fletcher, 47, of Baltimore County. Fletcher pleaded guilty to prostitution last month.

Harford County officials acknowledged that they had withheld e-mails sent by the corrections officer when asked last week, because the man is at the center of a separate investigation. The admission came days after a Public Information Act request by The Sun resulted in the release of thousands of e-mails seized from Fletcher's computer.

The state's Public Information Act requires public agencies to release available information and explain why it has refused to turn over other information.

Among the e-mails the sheriff's department released were several sent from the legislative account of Public Service Commissioner Charles R. Boutin, a former Republican delegate from Harford County who arranged to meet with Fletcher and offered to take her on business trips. He has apologized, saying his actions were "morally wrong."

Karen J. Kruger, an attorney for the county, defended the decision to withhold the corrections officer's e-mails, saying their release "may possibly interfere with the criminal proceeding" and was "contrary to the public interest."

"The information that has been redacted is related to an ongoing investigation of another individual for crimes that may have been committed in connection with the original investigation and prosecution of Ms. Fletcher," the attorney wrote in response to questions about e-mails that were not turned over.

According to charging documents, police observed a man - who officials say was the corrections officer - in November entering a motel room where police say he paid Fletcher for sex. Fletcher referred to him dozens of times in the e-mails that were released, but only by his nickname of "Mickey."

State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly said the man was not charged but was set to testify against Fletcher until she pleaded guilty to one count of prostitution.

Robert B. Thomas, a Sheriff's Office spokesman, said the investigation of the corrections officer could involve new charges. "If sufficient evidence is forthcoming, he will be charged, and perhaps others as well," he said.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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