Arundel councilman calls for probe into police perjury claim

Lawmaker writes in letter that someone in department 'isn't being honest'

September 27, 2012|By Erin Cox and Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

An Anne Arundel County councilman has asked prosecutors to investigate perjury allegations involving five police officers caught up in a lawsuit against County Executive John R. Leopold.

In a letter sent this week, Councilman Jamie Benoit also demanded an investigation from newly appointed Police Chief Larry W. Tolliver into whether the department properly vetted a complaint about an officer accused of lying.

"Our department is about to break under the weight of repeated scandals," Benoit wrote.

Leopold faces criminal charges that he allegedly misused his police detail and a civil case that alleges he told the police officers to ensure that a woman who complained about his behavior no longer had a job. Leopold has denied wrongdoing. Former Police Chief James Teare Sr. ended a criminal investigation into his conduct by retiring Aug. 1.

Benoit, a Democrat from Crownsville, wrote that officers' sworn testimony in the civil case is contradictory and that he plans to "get to the bottom of it." He said the administration of Leopold, a Republican, appears to be "not yet prepared to give the public answers voluntarily."

The letter focused on discrepancies between an affidavit from one officer and four depositions given by others, all part of a federal lawsuit filed by a former press aide to Leopold. None of the officers has been named as defendants. Benoit warned Tolliver that he may call the officers and three others to testify before the County Council under whistle-blower protections, seeking a full public account.

"Someone isn't being honest," Benoit wrote. "Lying, perjury and subornation of perjury are, in my view, the surest way to destroy a police department."

Benoit also sent the letter to Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee, whose spokeswoman declined to comment. Tolliver said he does not plan to launch an investigation.

"At this time, I have no intention of conducting an investigation into the veracity of the officers' statements and depositions," said Tolliver, adding that the department does not deserve the criticism.

Leopold's former press aide, Karla Hamner, asked Benoit to intervene after police closed an internal investigation into the officer whose affidavit conflicts with the depositions. Hamner alleges in her civil suit that Leopold transferred her to a temporary job in the police department for complaining about him and that he told police to ensure she did not get a permanent job in the agency.

The officer's affidavit said he was not influenced during or contacted about the job interview process. The depositions from the others describe a chain of events that imply the officer carried out Leopold's order.

After the depositions were taken in August, Hamner said she filed an internal affairs complaint and was contacted by a Calvert County deputy sheriff for the investigation.

In an email earlier this month, a county attorney told Hamner the investigation was closed and revealing the outcome was against the law.

The officer had become the commander of the department's Western District under the previous chief and was transferred last week to another department.

Tolliver said the officer "was transferred for the betterment of the agency" and declined to elaborate, citing personnel confidentiality.

Benoit's letter asked to review the documents created in the internal investigation. Tolliver said it is illegal to release the file.

Tolliver said he discussed the matter with Benoit privately before the letter was sent. During that meeting, Tolliver said, he told Benoit he need only ask for the chief to appear before the County Council — but his appearance would not make it legal to discuss the investigation.

The letter comes as another public hearing is scheduled Monday on a bill that would allow the county to try to recoup legal costs from employees whose actions put the government on the losing end of a lawsuit. If passed, it could be applied to Leopold if he loses the Hamner suit. This week, the county revealed his private attorney billed taxpayers nearly $21,000 for two weeks of work.

Benoit co-sponsored the measure. He said the implications of the Hamner case transcend her lawsuit.

"I'm not getting involved in a civil suit at all," Benoit said. "I'm getting involved with institutional dishonesty in the Police Department, which is absolutely the County Council's business in the absence of intervention by the administration."

Leopold's spokesman declined to comment on the letter.

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