27 Months Later, An Apology

Man Wrongly Accused Of E-mailing Bomb Threat Gets State To Follow Through On Settlement

July 23, 2009|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Peter.hermann@baltsun.com

Getting the apology was the hardest part.

As late as three weeks ago, two months after court records show the state of Maryland agreed to settle a lawsuit with money and words of contrition over the arrest of a musician accused of e-mailing a bomb threat to the airport, he was still in court fighting to get authorities to say they were sorry.

A frustrated attorney representing the man complained in a court filing, argued before a judge July 1, that the state had failed to live up to its May 25 settlement agreement and that an attorney representing the state had told her "it would be a cold day in hell" before her client could have his "sought-after retraction and apology forwarded to anyone."

The words George F. Spicka waited 27 months to hear finally came Wednesday at 1:29 p.m. in the form of an unusual two-paragraph, 94-word statement from Kelly Melhem, spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, whose officers had led the investigation. She sent it to the news media in an e-mail.

"The MdTa advises the public that it has no information connecting George F. Spicka with any illegal activity including an alleged event of October 11, 2006. ... MdTa sincerely regrets any damage to Mr. Spicka of Baltimore County," the statement says. It concludes with a request that "any prior information or records in regard to this specific event about George F. Spicka be removed from your web site and/or search results."

Asked whether she has ever drafted such a statement, or seen one, the spokeswoman said: "To my knowledge, no, but this is part of the settlement agreement."

She issued her statement shortly after the state spending panel, the Board of Public Works, approved paying Spicka a $200,000 settlement at its regular meeting in Annapolis.

Spicka sued the officers who investigated and arrested him and the agency representatives who talked about his case to the news media. He said they ruined his career, sent him to seek psychiatric treatment and onto antidepressant drugs, defamed his character and invaded his privacy.

But it was the refusal by the state to retract its allegation after the charges had been dropped that sent Spicka into a fury. His attorney, Rhonda I. Framm, wrote in one filing that "even though Mr. Spicka had no involvement in the alleged crime, he could not remove the defendants' boot from his neck. The defendants' wide broadcast and rebroadcast of the falsehoods spread faster than he or his friends and supporters could counter them."

Police rarely update news releases announcing arrests; it was prosecutors in Anne Arundel County, not the police, who dropped the charges, and those actions were a matter of public record. But a search of news organizations, including The Baltimore Sun, show that despite coverage of his arrest, there were no follow-up reports noting that the charges had been dropped.

Maryland Transportation Authority officers arrested Spicka at his Baltimore County home in October 2006 after they said they linked an e-mail to his personal computer from a "George Orwell" threatening that "a carrier bag lost (!) before secure area there, contains a chemical bomb. NOTIFY SECURITY."

According to court documents, police arrested Spicka, who that day had been booked to play jazz at Baltimore's Tremont Park Hotel, before they searched his computer's hard drive.

The FBI found no evidence that the e-mail had been sent from Spicka's home computer and in fact had come from e-mail linked to a computer 20 miles south of the Vatican, in Italy, and not from the suspect's house in Gwynn Oak.

Police at the time had linked Spicka's computer to the e-mail from the similarities between the two Internet signatures - his was "georgetheother" and the threatening e-mail came from "George Orwell" - according to court documents. Police also said that the threat came from a computer at Spicka's house that had been used to post strong opinions on Maryland politics and the governor.

Spicka, in an interview with The Baltimore Sun after his arrest in 2006, did say that he had posted political opinions on the Internet under Orwell's name as a tribute to the author.

Spicka could not be reached for comment Wednesday and his attorney, Framm, declined to comment. Attorneys who represented the state also could not be reached for comment.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.