Deputy regains rank of captain

Injunction overturns sheriff's demotion of potential opponent

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

After weeks of accusations that he had leaked a sensitive internal document to the media and had been abusing compensatory time off, Capt. Gregory Carlevaro was called into Sheriff R. Thomas Golding's office and told that he had a day to accept a demotion or retire, according to court records.

But when Carlevaro asked why he had been demoted, Golding told him he was not "buying [Carlevaro's] story" and that he'd lost confidence in him. "I just can't pinpoint anything right now," Carlevaro said he was told.

Carlevaro won a temporary injunction Thursday against Golding, which reinstates him as a captain, as the Harford County Sheriff's Office works to show cause for his demotion.

In the complaint, Carlevaro alleges that Golding "instituted and engaged in a campaign of harassment designed to denigrate and humiliate" him because of Golding's perception of Carlevaro as a political opponent, according to the complaint.

The demotion, he alleges, was "patently illegal" and violated his rights as a law enforcement officer.

Within hours on July 6, the sheriff's office demoted Carlevaro and suspended the president of the deputies union, who had told The Sun days earlier that the agency was suffering from serious morale problems. Fred Visnaw, the union president, was stripped of his police powers for sleeping in his vehicle. His case has been turned over to the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

County attorney Karen Kruger, counsel for the sheriff's office, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

An anonymous letter surfaced in May that accused Golding's second-in-command, Col. Howard Walter, of intimidating employees into supporting Golding's election campaign. Though the state prosecutor's office said it could not find evidence to support the claims and Walter was cleared of criminal wrongdoing, much controversy over the past few months has stemmed from who sparked the allegations of a culture of fear in the agency.

Though Golding bowed out of the race for sheriff shortly after the letter surfaced, morale has become a focal point of the candidates who are still in the race and seeking the endorsement of a union that has had a golden touch in past elections.

Dave Tritt, a Republican candidate, has hammered away at the issue, and Jesse Bane, a Democrat who recently retired from the sheriff's office to enter the race, has talked of the need for internal changes. Bob Benedetto and Norman Cochran, both Republican candidates, said they often hear those types of concerns when talking with deputies.

Golding has maintained that the agency's morale issues are based on personal agendas.

"Perception is not always reality," he told The Sun last month. "It's personality-based."

While Carlevaro succeeded in temporarily blocking his suspension - which could tie up the decision until Golding has left the agency - an attorney for Visnaw does not plan to seek similar relief. Visnaw, who works the midnight shift at the southern precinct, was found sleeping in his police car while on duty, a "minor incident without factual dispute," said attorney Michael Marshall.

But the way Visnaw was caught - and how the investigation is being conducted - raises eyebrows, he said. Marshall said Visnaw had parked in a remote location and dozed off when three high-ranking deputies - a major, a captain and a lieutenant - rushed his car with flashlights. All were off duty, he said.

Now his case is being handled by the MdTA, an agency whose chief, Gary W. McLhinney, was tapped by Golding to run for sheriff, which McLhinney later declined.

"When there is a particularly sensitive investigation, it's not unusual to have another agency do the investigation, but I don't know why it's being done in this case," Marshall said. "It was a minor incident without factual dispute - I suspect there is something else they are after if they are bringing in another agency, I just don't know what."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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