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.
One of the councilman who had called for a full accounting from Teare said Wednesday that he believes the retirement is a "small step" in getting the Police Department to move forward.
"To me, it's critical that the chief of police possess the strength of character that's required to discharge police powers," said Councilman Jamie Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat. "I felt that Chief Teare demonstrated to us that he didn't have it."
Council Chairman Derek Fink, a Pasadena Republican who issued that subpoena, said Teare's departure leaves questions unanswered about what happened in the Police Department and that he hopes a public accounting will come from Leopold's trial.
"He [Teare] was never going to answer those questions," Fink said, adding that it was unclear what — if anything — Teare had done wrong. "He's put his life into protecting the lives of people in Anne Arundel County, and I hope that doesn't get overshadowed."
County Councilman John Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican who has been a supporter of Teare, said, "One thing I've learned about government is that it's very good at rumors. Until these things are proven in a court of law, pretty much what they are is rumors."
Councilman Jerry Walker, who drafted the vote of no confidence against Teare, said he hopes for a way to learn what the prosecutors knew about Teare.
"Whatever they had to make a 25-year veteran step aside, that to me sounds pretty serious," said Walker, a Gambrills Republican, who added that police officers called him anonymously to complain that the department was effectively at a standstill because of the allegations.
"I would like to know what we need to fix," Walker said. "We don't really know what route to go."
State police spokesman Greg Shipley said Wednesday that his office shipped to the state prosecutor records originally requested by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has said it received documents that show which people in Anne Arundel County accessed a restricted law enforcement database.
Union leaders said the allegations about Teare had paralyzed a department already beleaguered by budget cuts and low morale. Last month, the department sought to fill vacant lieutenant's posts with officers from outside for the first time, citing a dearth of internal applicants.
"I think people wondered if this is a future they want to be a part of," said David J. Holway, president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, the parent organization for the lieutenants and sergeants unions. "Many of them felt that they would be tainted."
Holway said county residents told officers they were troubled that charges against Leopold allegedly involved the police.
"People in the street are saying, 'What's wrong with you people? You have a corrupt leadership,'" he said.
Dismay stretched high into the department's leadership. In April, Deputy Police Chief Emerson C. Davis — the department's second in command and no relation to the new acting chief — told the council the department had grown dysfunctional.
Cpl. O'Brien Atkinson, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, said a spate of recent departures along with Teare's might worsen the uneasiness.
"We're left with a lack of leadership and with our members, our youngest officers, jumping ship looking to go to other departments," Atkinson said. "It's not a pretty picture. The ship is sinking, and the captain just abandoned ship."
Key dates: James Teare Sr.
Oct. 1, 1987: James Teare Sr. joins Anne Arundel County Police Department.
Jan. 1, 2007: County Executive John R. Leopold appoints Teare chief of police.
May 1, 2009: Teare, who is eligible to retire, agrees to work at least three more years as part of a county retirement program.
March 2, 2012: Leopold is indicted on four counts of misconduct and one count of fraudulent misappropriation for allegedly misusing detectives assigned to his security detail.
March 20, 2012: County Council subpoenas Teare to testify about the Leopold case. Teare initially refuses to appear, but eventually does — though he declines to answer questions about the investigation.
May 1, 2012: Teare becomes eligible to retire under a program that entitles him to an estimated lump sum payment of more than $200,000. He can work until May 1, 2014, before being required to retire.
July 11, 2012: The State Prosecutor's Office announces Teare's retirement and says it is closing its criminal investigation.
Aug. 1, 2012: Teare's retirement to become effective.