Files on Leopold's political foes include information from police database

Critics of Anne Arundel County official say access should have been restricted

March 15, 2012|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

The Anne Arundel County Police Department acknowledged Wednesday that a statewide police criminal records database was accessed in order for County Executive John R. Leopold to investigate political opponents.

The revelation came as the department released a number of files that Leopold had allegedly directed members of his taxpayer-funded police detail to maintain on the opponents. The files, obtained by The Baltimore Sun through a Maryland Public Information Act request, included information on several county residents, including a former county councilman and a Democratic candidate in the 2010 county executive's race.

Leopold, a Republican, was indicted March 2 on four counts of misconduct in office and one count of misappropriation of county funds. According to court papers filed by the state prosecutor, he directed officers on his executive protection detail to arrange frequent sexual rendezvous with a county employee and to perform personal and political errands, including investigating opponents and maintaining files on them.

The Police Department's "partial response" to the public information request said that the county was withholding records from the Maryland Criminal Justice Information System — the statewide police database — on former Councilman Thomas Redmond of Pasadena. It said state law "restricts the dissemination of criminal history record information."

Deborah A. Jeon, legal director of the ACLU of Maryland, which also received the information through a public information request, said the database access was troubling.

"Mr. Leopold seems to have been conducting political opposition research on the county dime," said Jeon. "It might be typical for a political campaign to try to find negative information on candidates, but it is not legal or appropriate for a county government official to use county employees to conduct that kind of research."

Leopold did not respond to a message seeking comment. His attorney, Bruce L. Marcus, declined to comment.

In a Thursday press release, Jeon called the use of the criminal history database "potentially illegal," and sid the ACLU remains concerned that the "enemies list" violates a state law passed in 2009 restricting police from conducting investigations into activities protected by the First Amendment, unless conducted for law enforcement purposes. The legislation was passed in response to a spying scandal at the Maryland State Police.

"The response suggests Mr. Leopold might have demanded that police improperly access a criminal history database in the effort to dig up dirt on his perceived political rivals," said Jeon. "That would itself constitute a crime."

The police response was signed by Lt. James Scott Davis, commander of the Office of Professional Standards, who noted that the information kept on Redmond had been provided to the Maryland state prosecutor. Davis did not respond to a message seeking comment.

According to the indictment, Col. James E. Teare Sr., the police chief, knew about the allegations against Leopold, but took no action. Teare has declined to comment.

The documents released Wednesday largely appear to be publicly accessible information that would typically be used as opposition research in a political campaign, and most appear to have been printed from the Internet in 2008 and 2009. They included information on Democrat Carl O. Snowden, director of the Office of Civil Rights at the state attorney general's office; Democrat Joanna L. Conti, an Annapolis business executive who ran against Leopold in 2010; and her husband, Peter Conti.

Redmond, reached in Florida, was surprised to hear he had been the subject of political research.

"Wow," said Redmond, a Republican and retired business owner. "I didn't know he considered me a political enemy. It's surprising. I don't know what to say right now."

It was unclear what information was accessed from the police database, and Redmond said he didn't know what it could have been.

The file on Redmond also includes a missing persons flier on his sister-in-law, Betty Irene Redmond, who went missing in 1976 from Pasadena and has never been found. A note attached to the flier says "Missing person. Copy to JRL 10/15/08."

The file also includes publicly accessible court information on Redmond's 2004 divorce, as well as a biography from his campaign website, and several bankruptcy filings and civil cases against his business entities.

Redmond said he worked in a campaign against Leopold in 1990 when the then-delegate ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate.

"He was actually my delegate. I didn't agree with him on a lot of things," said Redmond, who was a Democrat while on the council from 1994 to 1998. "I didn't know that was enough to open a political file on me. I vigorously campaigned against him. I guess he never forgave me. It's a little mind-boggling."

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