Police chief says alleged Leopold files may violate law

Anne Arundel Co. chief Teare asks state police for assistance

  • Anne Arundel County Police Chief James E. Teare Sr. at the fifth annual Community Connections Day at Severna Park Middle School.
Anne Arundel County Police Chief James E. Teare Sr. at the fifth… (Amy Davis / Sun Photographer )
March 22, 2012|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County's police chief has acknowledged that information allegedly gathered by officers for use in dossiers on Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold's political enemies "possibly violates" state and federal law.

Police Chief Col. James E. Teare Sr. asked the Maryland State Police this week for help investigating allegations that Leopold's security officers improperly accessed a criminal records database at the county executive's direction. His request came as public interest groups and residents continued to call for an outside investigation of the matter.

The state police denied Teare's request, issued in a Monday letter, citing a parallel investigation by the Maryland state prosecutor, whose office indicted Leopold this month on four counts of misconduct in office and one count of misappropriation of county funds. The Republican county executive was accused of directing officers on his security detail to perform personal and political tasks, including arranging frequent sexual liaisons with a county employee and compiling files on opponents.

The indictment also alleges Teare was aware that Leopold directed the officers to participate in the alleged activity, but took "no effective action." He has not been charged in the case.

In his letter to Col. Marcus L. Brown, superintendent of the state police, Teare said the files were "maintained in an office in the county executive's suite" at the Arundel Center in an office "assigned to the county executive's protection detail."

A spokesman for Teare declined to comment and referred questions about the letter to the county Office of Law. County Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson and Leopold declined to comment.

The Maryland ACLU has also asked the state's public safety department to look into the alleged dossiers, and others have called for further review. The County Council has subpoenaed Teare to appear before the council next week to answer questions about his role in the alleged corruption.

Teare's letter became public on the same day as a letter from a county police union to Gov. Martin O'Malley, requesting he use his "moral authority" to convince Leopold and Teare to resign.

Leopold is scheduled to stand trial on the charges beginning Sept. 4. Lawyers for both sides agreed to the date during a scheduling conference held in the chambers of Judge Dennis M. Sweeney on Wednesday in Anne Arundel Circuit Court.

In a brief e-mail reply, Brown told Teare his request would be forwarded to the state prosecutor's office.

"The Maryland State Police is not conducting an investigation into this matter," spokesman Greg Shipley said. "We would defer to the state prosecutor's office. It's a matter of protocol. There's already an investigation under way, just not by us."

Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt declined to comment Wednesday.

The county Police Department last week released scores of documents alleged to be part of the political dossiers after receiving a Maryland Public Information Act request from the ACLU and The Baltimore Sun. The records released included files on several prominent county residents.

In a response to the records request, though, the department said it was withholding some records because they were accessed using the Maryland Criminal Justice Information System, a statewide crime records database.

Deborah Jeon, legal director at the American Civil Liberties union of Maryland, called Teare's request "a step in the right direction."

"Nobody wants to interfere with the work of the state prosecutor's office," said Jeon. "There could be rules that were broken that weren't criminal. The public has a right to know and that information might not come to light if we're relying solely on a criminal prosecution."

Jeon said she was still awaiting a response from the Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services, which oversees the database, to the ACLU's request for an audit to determine whether the system was accessed illegally.

Department spokesman Rick Binetti said Wednesday evening, "If the state prosecutor asks for our assistance, we will provide it."

Susan Wichmann, executive director of the watchdog group Common Cause Maryland, said the public deserves a thorough accounting of the situation.

"The indictment certainly shines a light on Leopold's alleged involvement, but at this point, I don't think the public has anymore information on how many county resources were used inappropriately and who else was involved," said Wichmann. "The public has a right to know how the resources were used and whether more criminal proceedings should be brought and what was the scope of who was involved."

The International Brotherhood of Police Officers, the umbrella union for the lieutenants' and sergeants' bargaining units, asked O'Malley in a letter to "use your moral authority as governor" to influence Leopold and Teare to resign.

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