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Arundel council orders police chief to testify on Leopold

The Anne Arundel County Council on Tuesday subpoenaed Police Chief Col. James E. Teare Sr. to answer questions next week about the political corruption case of County Executive John R. Leopold.

Council Chairman Derek Fink said the council agreed unanimously to issue a subpoena, a rarely used power granted to the council in the County Charter. Teare has been ordered to appear Monday night at a special meeting of the council. Members said they have no plans to call Leopold, but other officers could be subpoenaed later. Incoming Democratic Councilman Peter I. Smith will be sworn in shortly before the special meeting.

"The council wanted to get to the bottom of it," said Fink, a Pasadena Republican. "The taxpayers deserve to know what's going on. He'll be under oath, and we'll be able to have a conversation about what he knew and when."

Teare has faced questions since Leopold was indicted this month on charges that the county executive used his taxpayer-funded security detail to perform personal and political errands. Leopold, a Republican, is accused of having officers take him to frequent sexual rendezvous with a county employee and directing the officers to investigate his political foes.

The indictment alleges that officers complained to Teare, but he took no action. Teare has not been charged in the case.

Teare did not respond to a message seeking an interview. Leopold's office and County Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson declined to comment.

County Sheriff Ron Bateman hand-delivered the subpoena to Teare on Tuesday morning at the Police Department's Northern District offices in Brooklyn Park, according to a sheriff's spokesman.

Teare's subpoena marks only the second time the council has used its subpoena power — and the first time in two decades. In 1992, the council subpoenaed then-Sheriff Robert G. Pepersack Sr. to answer allegations that he overspent his budget. Pepersack lost a bid for re-election in 1994.

The council can "compel the attendance of witnesses and to require the production of records and other materials in connection with civil investigations, inquiries, or hearings," according to the county charter.

Also Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland said it has asked Gary D. Maynard, the state secretary of public safety and correctional services, for an inquiry into whether the Anne Arundel Police Department improperly used Maryland's criminal history database to compile information about people on Leopold's alleged "enemies list."

In an e-mailed statement, Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the department, said it "understands and respects" the ACLU's concerns over alleged misuse of the database.

"Inappropriate access to [the database] by any agency may constitute a criminal offense," he said in a statement. "Generally, any decision to conduct an audit would be deferred until after this determination has been made."

Last week, the county Police Department released files that were alleged to be part of the dossiers on four people but said it was withholding some records that were accessed from the criminal record database because it would be illegal to disseminate them.

Councilman John J. Grasso said that while he agreed to the subpoena of Teare, he did so to be a "team player" and does not plan to ask any questions.

"I just think it's a witch hunt," said Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican. "This don't do nothing for the county. It doesn't move us forward financially. To me, I could care less about it. I didn't run on a position to expose people and embarrass people. It's just garbage."

Cpl. O'Brien Atkinson, president of the county's largest police union, said he is pleased the council is "trying to get to the bottom of this," but believes Teare will invoke his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent in order to avoid self-incrimination. Two county police unions have called for Leopold and Teare to resign.

Atkinson also said several detectives have told him they've been called before the county Ethics Commission to answer questions about the hiring process at the police department for his son James Teare Jr. The younger Teare was hired by the department last year and is currently assigned to the police academy. He could not be reached for comment.

Betsy K. Dawson, executive director of the Ethics Commission, said she cannot confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.

Councilman Jamie Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat, said the council acted decisively by subpoenaing Teare.

"Chief Teare needs to publicly account for his actions surrounding the collection and dissemination of the information contained in these files that John Leopold was keeping on his political enemies," said Benoit, who is a lawyer. "I'm going to have questions about his knowledge and his participation in this."

In March 2009, Teare appeared voluntarily before the council at the invitation of then-Chairman C. Edward Middlebrooks to answer questions about an incident in which someone called 911 to report "naked people" in Leopold's county-issued Chevrolet Impala at an Annapolis mall. Teare said the officers acted properly.

In an email to colleagues Monday, Councilman Chris Trumbauer urged the council to subpoena Teare.

"I feel strongly that we need to do this action in order to get to the bottom of these allegations," said Trumbauer, an Annapolis Democrat. "People are rapidly losing trust in our county government, and we need to act fast to begin to restore it."

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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