County Council, unions urge police chief to talk about what he knew in Leopold indictment

County's largest police union to hold no confidence vote

  • Anne Arundel county executive John R. Leopold attends a pedestrian safety day event at the Earliegh Heights fire department.
Anne Arundel county executive John R. Leopold attends a pedestrian… (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore…)
March 05, 2012|By Nicole Fuller and Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

Three days after the Anne Arundel County executive was charged in an indictment with using his security detail to promote his re-election and to arrange sexual rendezvous, pressure mounted Monday for Police Chief James E. Teare Sr., to publicly address the issue.

County Councilman Jamie Benoit said he would likely ask Teare to appear before the council to answer questions about his knowledge of the allegations. Meanwhile, the county's largest police union began holding a no-confidence vote directed at Teare and the county executive, and another police union called on both men to resign.

The indictment from the Maryland state prosecutor, charging John R. Leopold with misconduct in office and fraudulent misappropriation of county funds, alleges that police officers on the security detail complained to superiors — including Teare — but "no effective action was taken by the chief."

Benoit called Teare's alleged knowledge of the problem one of the most "troubling aspects" of the indictment.

"Chief Teare's going to have to explain himself," said Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat. "Police powers are sort of a special and unique power … and you're given those powers because you've earned a certain level of trust. … Everybody in the county deserves some answers with respect to who knew what and when, and I absolutely intend to find out those answers."

In a prepared statement, Teare said it would be "inappropriate" for him to comment on allegations in the indictment.

At a public event at a Severna Park fire station, Leopold declined to answer questions about the indictment, saying a courtroom was the only "appropriate venue" to discuss it. He dismissed the call for his resignation and said he was standing by his police chief, whom he called "a very capable leader."

Leopold, a Republican, said, "I'm going to finish the work I've been elected to do."

Union leaders presented a plan to the County Council on Monday night that would require a council vote to dismiss a police chief — a measure they said would prevent top police officials from being beholden to the county executive.

"It seems the response [from Teare] was, 'Well, keep [Leopold] happy,'" said O'Brien Atkinson, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the county's largest police union. "That is inexcusable. ... We've always had a chief that works for the county executive — they serve at their whim. This would allow for some checks and balances."

The indictment alleges that in 2010, as Leopold ran for re-election, he directed his security detail to perform personal chores, transport him to steal campaign signs of opponents, and prevent his live-in girlfriend from running into a county employee with whom he had an "intimate relationship."

The Fraternal Order of Police voted Monday to begin a no-confidence vote on Leopold and Teare, with balloting to conclude Tuesday night. A no-confidence vote by the department's more than 500 rank-and-file officers would serve as a prelude to the union's calling on Teare and Leopold to step down, union officials said.

The FOP's decision comes on the heels of a call Monday by the unions representing police sergeants and lieutenants for Teare and Leopold to resign. The two unions delivered a no-confidence vote last month on both officials.

"If officers cannot trust their chief to protect them from the alleged abuse by a public official, then how can citizens trust the chief to protect them?" Paul J. Birks, national vice president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, said in a prepared statement.

Teare, in his statement, dismissed concerns that his alleged knowledge of Leopold's actions rendered him unfit for the job. "I am honored to serve as Anne Arundel County's police chief and I continue to have full faith and confidence in all police department members and our crime fighting strategy."

Councilman John J. Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican, called the accusations against Leopold "speculation" and "motivated by the unions."

"It sounds like it's good, juicy reading material," said Grasso. "But you don't know if it's true or not. John Leopold is 69 years old. If he can still work it like that at the age of 69, good for him."

L. Douglas Ward, director of the Johns Hopkins University Division of Public Safety Leadership in the School of Education, said, "The questions have to be answered — did [Teare] know or should he have known, then he's got full responsibility for that."

But it may be determined that the chief did not know, or that there was no way he should have known, Ward said.

If the allegations take a long time to get resolved, "that can lead to a difficulty in managing a large organization of this kind," Ward said, because "it becomes a trust issue."

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