An Annapolis police corporal resigned from the department after an Anne Arundel County judge dismissed criminal charges the department brought against him for failure to investigate four sexual assault cases in which he acted as a criminal investigator over a three-year period.
Cpl. Gwynne Tavel, a six-year veteran of the department, resigned in December, Chief Ed Jackson confirmed Jan. 10. Judge Mark Crooks in October dismissed four counts of misconduct in office filed against Tavel. Crooks ruled that the department’s criminal and internal investigators had violated Tavel’s constitutional rights.
After Crooks tossed out Tavel’s case, Tia Lewis, a spokesperson for the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office, said the state can file charges again or appeal the judge’s ruling. When asked whether the state planned to charge Tavel again, Lewis declined to comment on “an open matter.”
Tavel, 35, resigned while he was the subject of an internal investigation that will continue despite his departure from the department, Jackson said. Mike Wilson, a spokesperson for the Annapolis police union, declined to comment on Tavel’s resignation. Tavel left for active duty in the National Guard two months before charges were filed against him in February and he was suspended from the police department without pay.
Annapolis police charged Tavel with four counts of misconduct in office for failing to investigate four sexual assault cases, and for using his authority as a supervisor to close the cases in the department’s electronic records system. The criminal charges were filed after Sgt. Hil O’Herlihy launched an internal investigation into Tavel’s unsolved cases. O’Herlihy determined Tavel made no arrests and conducted little or no investigation into the sexual assault cases.
In an interview that was part of the administrative investigation, Tavel admitted to O’Herlihy that he was having computer problems and accidentally closed one active case, O’Herlihy testified during an October motion hearing.
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A police officer’s admission during an administrative investigation is immune from criminal prosecution, meaning those statements cannot be used against the officer in a criminal proceeding, according to the Annapolis Police Department’s general orders. O’Herlihy advised Tavel before his interview that his statements could be used against him for administrative discipline, but not in a criminal case. But Tavel’s protected statement was used against him in criminal charges, Crooks ruled.
O’Herlihy, the internal investigator, transferred to the department’s criminal investigation section seven months after he started looking into Tavel’s unsolved cases. O’Herlihy charged Tavel with several counts of misconduct in office, a misdemeanor, within weeks of his transfer. The charges are based, in part, on Tavel’s interview with O’Herlihy, which was immune from prosecution and violated Tavel’s constitutional right against self-incrimination, Crooks ruled.
“It is the obligation that the state demonstrate the independent nature of evidence through an investigative chain that is untainted,” Crooks said during an Oct. 5 hearing. “There is a fundamental lack of understanding on the government and police department’s part on what is required with compelled testimony.”
As part of the criminal investigation, detectives searched Tavel’s external hard drive without consent to look for additional cases closed without supplemental documents, two Annapolis investigators testified in a two-day October hearing. Crooks said during the hearing the only way to restore Tavel’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment protections was to dismiss the charges.
Tavel joined the Annapolis Police Department in August 2015 after working for the Baltimore Police Department. He was assigned to the criminal investigations unit in July 2017 and became a supervisor when promoted to corporal in September 2019. The criminal investigation section was staffed with a lieutenant, a sergeant, a corporal and between six and nine detectives during Tavel’s tenure. Detectives are instructed not to close or deactivate investigations unless supplemental documents are completed and signed by a supervisor. Four sexual assault cases assigned to Tavel were changed from open to closed, inactive or unfounded by his user ID, police said in charging documents.
O’Herlihy found, as part of the internal investigation, that Tavel was assigned to 12 cases that were closed without documented interviews or evidence showing that an investigation occurred beyond a preliminary police report. The cases include five sex offenses, two of which involved juvenile victims and suspects, two motor vehicle thefts, two burglaries, a robbery, an assault and a shooting.