Teare must answer questions or step aside

Our view: Anne Arundel police chief cannot effectively and honorably lead his department without addressing its role in the allegations against Leopold

March 23, 2012

When the Anne Arundel County Council first subpoenaed Police Chief James E. Teare Sr. to answer questions about police involvement in the allegations described in the indictment of County Executive John Leopold, the chief refused. His grounds were, in part, that the subpoena was not issued after an open, public vote. The council, meeting in public on Monday, will erase that objection. If he ignores the new subpoena, he has no business running the police department.

Mr. Teare's attorney, Gerard P. Martin, wrote that it would not be advisable for Mr. Teare, as a law enforcement officer, to provide public testimony on matters that are subject to an impending criminal trial. That is not a courtesy police tend to observe for run-of-the-mill criminal defendants. The Anne Arundel County Police Department, for example, posts daily news releases about those it has arrested for crimes ranging from petty theft to murder, identifying suspects by name and detailing the evidence against them. The only difference is, those suspects are not Mr. Teare's boss, and none of the alleged crimes involve participation by police officers or questions about whether the chief played a role in covering them up.

That's what's at issue here, and it's why the council is right to demand some answers from Mr. Teare. The indictment of Mr. Leopold alleges that the executive misused his executive protection detail, which is made up of county police officers, for personal and political activities. The indictment says those activities cost thousands of dollars in police overtime. The indictment also alleges that Mr. Leopold ordered those officers to compile dossiers on his political opponents, and there is evidence supporting that contention. In response to public information act requests from The Sun and others, Mr. Teare has released a handful of files that fit that description.

Two other factors strongly support the need for Mr. Teare to answer questions sooner rather than later. First, in responding to the public information requests, he redacted portions of the documents because they contained information from a state criminal records database that would be illegal to release to the public — or, for that matter, to Mr. Leopold. And second, the indictment claims that officers complained to Mr. Teare about the tasks Mr. Leopold was assigning them, and he did nothing to stop it.

Mr. Teare has a duty to uphold the integrity of the police department that supersedes the criminal case against Mr. Leopold. If he suspects that officers broke the law or department rules, he needs to take them off the street and instigate his own investigation and disciplinary hearings.

The same, of course, is true of him. In ordinary circumstances, his superior, the county executive, would be expected to at least ask him to step aside until the investigation is complete. But Mr. Leopold cannot do that, since any misconduct that Mr. Teare participated in or ignored is directly related to his own criminal case. For that reason, the council is right to step in. It does not have the authority under current law to fire him or force him to take a leave, but it does have the power to compel him to appear and answer questions.

Mr. Teare could, of course, decline to answer the council's questions on the grounds that he does not wish to incriminate himself. That is his right under the Constitution. It is also fundamentally incompatible with the effective and honorable leadership of the police department. If Mr. Teare cannot answer questions about what he knew and when until after Mr. Leopold's trial is complete, then he should not serve as police chief during that time either. Mr. Teare needs to answer the council's questions honestly and forthrightly, or he needs to step aside.

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