Prosecutor subpoenas three officers before grand jury in Leopold probe

Officers expected to appear before a grand jury in Annapolis

March 18, 2011|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

The state prosecutor's office began calling witnesses Friday before a grand jury to present evidence in its investigation into Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold's alleged misuse of his security detail during last year's campaign.

Three police officers assigned to that detail appeared in county Circuit Court in Annapolis to testify before a grand jury after receiving subpoenas, according to the officers' attorneys, who declined to comment further. The officers, dressed in plainclothes, also declined to comment.

State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt, who is appointed by the governor and whose office handles cases involving public officials, declined to answer questions at the courthouse. "Just here handling state business, can't confirm or deny anything," he said.

Investigators have been looking into whether Leopold directed his county-funded security detail to carry out tasks related to his re-election campaign, according to people interviewed in recent days in connection with the probe. Leopold also received a subpoena that requires him to turn over documents but not to appear before a grand jury, according to his spokesman.

The officers who testified Friday are Cpl. Howard Brown and Cpl. Mark Walker, who work full time on the detail, and Cpl. Joseph Pazulski, who works part time. Their legal fees are being paid by the county police union, its president said. An attorney who initially acted on behalf of the officers but is not representing them said earlier this week that they were negotiating an immunity deal that would allow them to testify without threat of prosecution.

County Police Chief James Teare Sr. defended the officers Friday. "I have full faith and confidence that our officers acted legally, morally and ethically," he said. "I have no reason to believe at this point that our officers acted any way other than that."

The chief declined to say whether he has been subpoenaed but said he would fully cooperate if called. "Because there is, or I believe there is, an ongoing investigation, I would not be able to comment on any aspect of that investigation," he added.

Leopold, a Republican, would not comment Friday through his spokesman, Dave Abrams. In response to questions about Leopold's legal representation, Abrams said: "To the extent that any of the questions implicate nongovernmental issues, the county executive will ensure that he has personal counsel at his sole cost and expense."

The state prosecutor's office served Leopold, who won a second term last year, with a subpoena on Wednesday seeking the county executive's schedule from 2008 to the present. The subpoena requires him to answer questions regarding the schedule, though Abrams said he thought that turning over the schedule would satisfy the request.

The prosecutor's office frequently uses grand juries as an investigative tool and has the ability to subpoena witnesses to appear over the course of an investigation, which can span weeks or even years.

Leopold has acknowledged that his security detail carried out tasks for him as he was recuperating from two back surgeries last year, although he said he could not recall specific details. He has called allegations of impropriety "political retaliation," citing a recent change he initiated to the binding-arbitration agreement between the county and its public safety employees.

Leopold drafted legislation approved by the County Council this month to give the council the final say in labor disputes. The council voted unanimously to approve the bill, but several of the members said they voted for the bill only with the addition of two key amendments.

Following passage, Leopold used his line-item-veto power to veto the amendments and signed the bill into law as it was originally written. Hundreds of the county's 1,500 unionized public safety employees voiced their opposition to the bill at two public hearings. Several members of the council have said they would attempt to override the vetoes at their meeting Monday night.

Craig Oldershaw, head of the county firefighters union, and Joanna L. Conti, a Democrat who lost to Leopold in November, said they have been interviewed by investigators from the state prosecutor's office.

Oldershaw said he was asked about an incident in which a member of Leopold's security detail picked up a $4,000 campaign contribution from the firefighters' political action committee in late September. Conti said she was asked about allegations that the security detail removed her campaign signs, but she said she had no evidence of that happening.

Anne Arundel and most large jurisdictions provide taxpayer-funded security details to its executives and mayors. Government employees are generally prohibited by law from carrying out campaign activities while on the job.

Police Chief Teare declined to discuss whether the officers in the detail might face administrative punishment or other sanctions if wrongdoing were found.

Leopold's detail, which consists of five officers — two full-time and three-part time — cost the county nearly $86,000 in overtime in 2010, double the amount of the previous year. The overtime costs have decreased in 2011, according to figures provided by Leopold's chief of staff.

Major Ed Bergin, the police commander to whom the unit reports, said earlier this week that the department was working on a plan to reduce the cost of the detail. "I think he will be driving himself more, and they will be meeting him more at the security locations," he said.

Leopold has attributed the increase in security detail costs to the fact that he was on the campaign trail last year.

Baltimore Sun reporter Andrea Siegel contributed to this article.

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