Taneytown’s Mayor and City Council opted not to further investigate an anonymous complaint it received in the fall about its police department, months before the department was raided by federal agencies earlier this month, leading to the police chief and another officer being put on administrative leave.
In September, Taneytown received the complaint, which called into question the police department’s leadership and alleged equipment was regularly purchased for personal use. The Carroll County Times obtained the complaint this week through a Public Information Act request.
The Sept. 7 complaint letter, signed “Concerned Officer,” alleged the department is “ruled by fear,” naming William Tyler, Taneytown chief of police, and his second-in-command, Lt. Jason Etzler, who is now the acting chief with Tyler suspended.
The author wrote that “special” flashlights and communication headsets were purchased for personal use and that ammunition “mysteriously disappeared” from the department.
“Most officers know and joke about some of these issues,” the complainant wrote, “but we all know it is a serious matter.”
Upon receiving his letter, Councilman Joe Vigliotti reached out to City Attorney Jay Gullo before connecting with the rest of his council colleagues.
Tyler, Vigliotti said, wanted to address the allegations right away and called Vigliotti down to the police station on East Baltimore Street.
Vigliotti, who writes a regular column for the Times, told the paper that everything seemed to be in order at the department when he visited and that Tyler was “exhaustive” in showing the councilman where everything alleged to have been purchased for personal use was located.
“Chief showed me where the flashlights are. He showed me where the headsets were charging,” Vigliotti said. “He showed me where the ammunition was kept. He showed me where the guns are kept… where they keep the brochures and pamphlets they hand out to kids when they do community outreach stuff.”
Mayor and Council after their monthly meeting Sept. 10 entered a closed session to address the complaint.
Closed meeting minutes, also obtained by the Times through a Public Information Act request, explained the elected officials went into a closed session to discuss the complaint and “the legal steps that may be taken to investigate the items therein.”
Mayor James McCarron, council members Vigliotti, Judy Fuller and Bradley Wantz, acting City Manager Jim Wieprecht, City Clerk Clara Kalman and Gullo were at the closed meeting.
The minutes detail that Tyler and Sgt. Brian Jestes — the city’s two longest tenured police officials — were also present at the closed session. Jestes is regularly assigned to watch over most council meetings.
“Everything (Tyler) showed me in person, he also explained to everybody else that was present that night,” Vigliotti said of the closed session. “We were satisfied that everything was in order.”
Minutes note that both Tyler and Jestes left the meeting after the letter was discussed and the council addressed another matter in closed session.
No action was taken regarding the anonymous complaint, according to the closed session minutes — which are sparing.
“To be honest, when you have somebody that writes a letter and doesn’t sign it, it’s hard to take it seriously,” Fuller told the Times. “I get anonymity, I get why somebody would do that, but at what point does it become just hard feelings. The police department, it’s a hard place if you don’t quite fit in. I was in the fire department. If it’s not a good fit, everything does look very negative.”
Despite Fuller, McCarron, Vigliotti and Wantz saying that they — and their city staff colleagues — took the allegations outlined in the letter very seriously, all expressed reservations about acting on an anonymous complaint.
“It would be different if they had a letter that was signed by 10 people, or if they had somebody else to back them up,” Fuller said. “It’s hard to take the word of just one person that doesn’t want to give their name.”
Tyler had a reasonable answer for all the concerns raised by the complaint, Fuller, McCarron, Vigliotti and Wantz said.
“We asked the Chief [Tyler] about the issues that were raised,” McCarron told the Times. “And he addressed each of the issues we raised to him and explained them to council’s satisfaction… The ammunition that was supposedly missing wasn’t at all based on what was disclosed later.”
After questioning Tyler, council members say there was no need to discuss further action or potentially having a larger law enforcement agency perform an audit or investigation.
“For the accusations that were made, while they may have been considered serious in some fashions, they were not criminal,” Wantz told the Times. “I believe that we gave due process to it and made an appropriate decision at the time based on what we knew.”
Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees said his agency is often called upon by other police departments and sheriff’s offices to perform internal investigations or audits relating to “internal complaints about misconduct by officers.”
“We’ve done that several times here locally in the county,” DeWees said, “and have gone outside the county to assist with internal investigations so that there is no perception of conflict.”
As Carroll County’s highest ranking law enforcement official, even DeWees has called on other agencies to “come in and look at, whether it’s audits or internal investigations, so that there’s no perceived conflict with my office and what we’re looking at,” he said. “We are certainly open, we’ve done it recently with coming in and assisting, from acting as the department chief until one is established [in Hampstead]… or internal audits of whatever issues the department’s having that they want us to look at so that we can give a good, independent audit.”
Roughly five months after the anonymous letter was received by the mayor and city council, federal agents executed a sealed search warrant at the Taneytown Police Department and multiple locations in Fairfield, Pennsylvania.
Tyler and another officer were placed on administrative leave immediately after Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents executed the search warrant Tuesday, Jan. 15. Taneytown declined to identify the second police officer placed on leave.
No charges have been filed as a result of the warrants, and the warrants remain sealed.
Tyler and Jestes are the only Taneytown police officers who live in Fairfield, according to city records. FBI activity was reported Jan. 15 on Mile Trail in Fairfield. The Adams County Tax Services Department confirmed Jestes owns a property on Mile Trail in Fairfield. The agency also confirmed that Tyler owns a residence on Sydnor Trail — the address listed in Taneytown records — in Fairfield.