One of Baltimore's most bizarre political sideshows took an ugly twist Monday, with police acknowledging that they were investigating a morning altercation between Clerk of Circuit Court Frank M. Conaway Sr. and blogger Adam Meister.
Meister, who was sued by Conaway's daughter for $21 million after writing about tax credits on her homes, said the 78-year-old took a swing at him after the two engaged in an argument as the 35-year-old was jogging through the neighborhood.
But unknown to Meister, Conaway says the incident was being observed by city police officers who were parked in a vehicle nearby and approached Conaway afterward.
"I was fortunate that they were sitting across the street," said Conaway, who denies throwing a punch. "I don't aimlessly throw punches. If I threw one, I wouldn't have missed."
Anthony Guglielmi, the Police Department's chief spokesman, said police were collecting statements from the two men and would likely present any findings to the Baltimore state's attorney's office on whether charges should be filed.
Police said Conaway "brandished a firearm" during the altercation. Conaway, who has been the clerk of court since 1998 and lost a bid for mayor this year, denied that he displayed a gun but declined to say whether he was carrying one at the time. He did say that he has a permit to carry a concealed weapon; state police said Monday afternoon they could not verify that information.
Meister, whose blogs are often peppered with observations from his daily jogs, said he was running back from a grocery store on Cold Spring Lane when he passed by Conaway's Ashburton home.
The address is well known to Meister: He has been digging through property records related to the Conaway family, exposing inconsistencies on documents related to the Homestead Tax Credit. His writings prompted City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway to sue him for libel and defamation, a suit that was decried by Meister as an effort to silence him and was later dropped.
Belinda Conaway lost her re-election bid in the September primary, and Meister has vowed to continue investigating the political family.
"I encourage all of you to jump on the anti-Conaway bandwagon because being anti-Conaway is being pro-Baltimore," Meister wrote on Nov. 9. "FRANK JR. IS NEXT!" he wrote to end the post, in a reference to the state delegate who is Conaway Sr.'s son.
It was about 10:30 a.m. when Meister said he saw Conaway outside his home, and he said he began yelling at Conaway.
"I wondered why he was not at work — he makes $100,000 a year, doesn't he?" Meister told The Baltimore Sun. "I expressed myself about what his daughter did to me; I was yelling at him, he was yelling at me."
Meister said Conaway then took a swing at him, which Meister said he avoided and then continued on his way. Meister said police never intervened in the incident, though an officer pulled up alongside him later during his jog and asked him why he was running. But he said he was never interviewed by officers about the altercation. Meister, for his part, said Conaway did not pull a gun.
But Guglielmi and Conaway say police observed the incident. A copy of the incident report was not immediately available Monday.
Conaway said Meister went out of his way on the jog to pass by his home.
"Something's obviously wrong with this man," Conaway said. "Anything he can find nasty to say about my family, he'll do."
Conaway said Meister long ago crossed the line between journalism and harassment. "There can be inconsistencies [in real estate paperwork] everywhere — politicians are talked about all the time — but you shouldn't be coming to people's homes, harassing them and making threats."
Meister countered that his actions are protected by free speech. "I can run wherever I want to run. People can scream … at Army funerals," he said. "They tried to ruin my life [by filing the lawsuit]. What does he expect?"