Arundel police chief stepping down amid controversy

Retirement ends probe of Teare's role in Leopold misconduct case

  • Anne Arundel County Chief of Police James E. Teare Sr.
Anne Arundel County Chief of Police James E. Teare Sr. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
July 11, 2012|By Andrea F. Siegel and Erin Cox, The Baltimore Sun

Embattled Anne Arundel County Police Chief James Teare Sr. agreed to retire next month, ending the criminal investigation of his role in the misconduct case against his boss, County Executive John R. Leopold.

The sudden announcement Wednesday by the Maryland State Prosecutor's Office marks the highest-profile departure from government in the wake of the probe into Leopold's use of his police security detail. Within hours, Leopold named an acting chief.

The prosecutor's office in March obtained a five-count indictment against Leopold, accusing him of ordering officers to do personal and political favors that included keeping his girlfriends from meeting each other and driving Leopold to uproot an opponent's campaign signs.

Though Teare was not charged, the indictment embroiled him in controversy. According to the indictment, detectives on the security detail said they complained about Leopold and Teare did not stop him. Amid the fallout, police unions and then the Anne Arundel County Council issued votes of no confidence in Teare. Unions asked him to resign.

As the investigation progressed, public records revealed that officers might have compiled dossiers on people Leopold perceived to be political enemies by illegally accessing databases. Teare's second in command said publicly that he saw the chief with one of the files.

Until Wednesday Teare, 49, had not signaled that he planned to leave the department that he joined nearly a quarter-century ago and that for months has been described by political leaders and police as in turmoil.

"It is important to resolve this matter without any further disruption to the effective functioning of the Police Department at a time when it is reorganizing and the Anne Arundel County executive is under indictment," State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt said in a statement.

Teare declined to comment but released a statement saying that he "has cherished the opportunity to serve the citizens of Anne Arundel County."

Teare's attorney, Gerard P. Martin, said he asked Davitt's office if it would drop the investigation if Teare retired. Martin said Teare was not aiding the case against Leopold.

"It was not negotiated, but they had an interest in it," Martin said of Teare's retirement after more than five years as chief. "It's been no secret that they were conducting an investigation. When the chief decided that he wanted to retire, my thought was, 'Let's get the most out of it that we can.'"

"He can spin it any way he wants," Davitt said of Teare's lawyer. "But I'm not in a position to comment beyond what's in our press release."

Leopold announced that Maj. Pamela Davis, 41, would become acting chief when Teare departs Aug 1. She will be the first woman to lead the department. Nationally, one in eight police chiefs is female, according to the most recent statistics.

The county plans to conduct a nationwide search for a new chief, a spokesman said.

The revelation of Teare's departure came less than 48 hours after a judge ruled that Leopold's case will go to trial, denying defense requests to dismiss charges against the 69-year-old Republican county executive.

By retiring, Teare avoids the threat of prosecution and keeps his pension, plus the lump-sum retirement check earned through the county's Deferred Retirement Option Program. Individual pension benefits are not public information, but County Auditor Teresa Sutherland estimated that based on his salary and tenure, Teare would receive at least $70,000 a year and more than $200,000 in a lump sum at retirement.

"It's much better to be out of a job than be a criminal defendant," said Arnold M. Weiner, who led the defense team for then-Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon that negotiated a deal in her corruption case in 2010. The probation before judgment agreement allowed Dixon to keep her city pension of $83,000 a year and could later allow her to expunge her criminal record of embezzlement and perjury convictions in exchange for leaving office. Dixon also was to complete 500 hours of community service and donate $45,000 to charity.

Teare's exit appeared to take the county administration by surprise. County spokesman David Abrams would not comment on whether Teare was still leading the department. Leopold declined to discuss Teare's departure and issued a statement two hours after the prosecutor's announcement. He said Teare had notified him of the retirement that morning and that Teare wanted "to spend more time with his family."

"I would like to thank him for his long and honorable service to Anne Arundel County and wish him the best of luck in his retirement," Leopold said in a statement.

The abruptness of Teare's departure also surprised the Anne Arundel County Council, which in March issued a rare subpoena ordering Teare to disclose what he knew about the allegations against Leopold. At the time, Teare's attorney declined on Teare's behalf to discuss it because a criminal investigation was ongoing.

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