While two Republicans – an incumbent and a challenger – will be facing off in the July 19 primary as the only two candidates in the race for Harford County state’s attorney, the lack of a Democratic challenger has made the contest no less contentious.
The race heated up this week when the Harford County Deputy Sheriff’s Union released a letter saying they had no confidence in current Harford State’s Attorney Albert Peisinger Jr., and that they voted to endorse his challenger, Alison Healey, for the office. In a news release issued June 26, the union criticized Peisinger’s performance and questioned his prosecution record.
“Peisinger’s lack of leadership has led to the deterioration of trust by the rank and file that wear the badge daily,” the news release stated.
The announcement has left Peisinger frustrated.
“My initial thoughts: nothing but lies and misrepresentation of facts,” Peisinger said.
Peisinger was the first new Harford state’s attorney elected in 36 years. He replaced Joseph Cassilly, who held the position until retiring in 2019. Cassilly was disbarred last October for withholding evidence that surfaced in a 1981 double-murder case and lying about it over the years.
Before taking office in 2019, Peisinger was an assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore city from 2001 to 2016.
According to the biography on his campaign website, Peisinger’s family has lived in Harford County for over two decades, where they have been active in the community. Peisinger is a member of several local organizations including the Bel Air Downtown Alliance. His children attended county public schools, and he coached their youth sports teams. His family attends St. Margaret Parish.
Healey was a prosecutor for the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office for 12 years, where she spent part of her time supervising the domestic violence unit, before starting her own law firm in Bel Air. According to her firm’s Facebook page, she specializes in criminal defense, traffic and DUI defense, and family law.
She has lived in Harford County for over 30 years and is a member of the Harford County Bar Association. She has five kids, including three stepchildren – with two in public school, two in private school and one at Harford Community College. She’s also coached youth soccer for over 15 years.
Harford County Sgt. Gerald Eaton, vice president of the deputy sheriff’s union, said Healey received 90 percent of the union’s vote for their endorsement; however, he declined to say how many members of the 300-member union actually voted.
“I’m obviously incredibly grateful, humbled and appreciative of their support of me in this campaign,” Healey said.
Eaton said the union sent a list to Peisinger’s office a few months ago outlining some concerns, such as lack of communication between the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Harford County Sheriff’s Office’s court liaison. Peisinger said he responded to the letter asking for specifics in some cases and never received a response.
The union has accused Peisinger of intimidation of and retribution against deputies; claims Peisinger denies. “Our leadership has reason to believe that Al Peisinger has made repeated attempts to intimidate and silence the voices of the deputies whom are now in fear of retribution,” the union said in the news release.
“These concerns simply aren’t being addressed,” Eaton said. “There’s not enough being done to repair the relationship.”
The union also referred to Peisinger as a “protégé” of Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore City’s controversial state’s attorney. While Peisinger worked in the city’s State’s Attorney’s Office briefly at the same time as Mosby, he worked there for nearly two decades before Mosby assumed office in 2015. She worked as an assistant state’s attorney for Baltimore city from 2006 to 2011. Peisinger said Mosby was the reason he left the office.
“Our philosophies of prosecution are the total opposite,” Peisinger said.
Healey said Peisinger is soft on crime and that violent crime has increased in the county during his time in office. Peisinger has said he is, in fact, tough on crime and that violent crime has decreased in the county under him.
Each candidate has leaned on different sourcing for crime statistics. Peisinger has cited the 2020 uniform crime report showing the 24.7 decrease in crime rate in Harford County, while Healey has cited 2021 data from the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System, which the county adopted to use that year, to show that violent crime was up in the county.
“She is not lying. He’s not lying,” said Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler. “It’s just a sad timing on the whole thing.”
Gahler, however, said comparing the National Incident-Based Reporting System results to the uniform crime report was like comparing apples to oranges. He said the types of crimes considered increased, the way the crimes are counted is different, and the definitions of the crimes are different.
“The numbers were not good,” Gahler said, and that the county sheriff’s office had “zero confidence” in the National Incident-Based Reporting System.
Gahler also clarified that it would make sense if there was an increase in crime from 2020 to 2021 since many people spent much of 2020 in lockdown. He also said Peisinger has been a strong ally as state’s attorney and a strong advocate for the sheriff’s office.
“I have no qualms with his work,” Gahler said.
Another of Healey’s critiques of Peisinger is that he has never tried a case in Harford County. This is true, but not unusual, according to David Jaros, a University of Baltimore law professor and faculty director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform.
“What we expect of the state’s attorney can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction depending on the size of the office,” Jaros said. “In a large jurisdiction or a substantial jurisdiction, it is certainly not unusual for the state’s attorney in that jurisdiction not to be trying cases.
“I don’t think that’s a real strong critique.”
Another concern Eaton said the union had was the inexperience of some of the assistant state’s attorneys in Peisinger’s office. Gahler said this is not a fair criticism because “whenever you’re hiring new people, you’re going to run into those challenges,” no matter who is in office.
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Healey has said she has the support of “all of Harford County law enforcement.” Bel Air’s Chief of Police Charles Moore, however, donated money to Peisinger’s re-election campaign.
“I have no problems with Al’s performance as the state’s attorney in Harford County,” Moore said.
Along with the support of the deputy sheriff’s union, Healey also has the endorsement of the Harford County Municipal Lodge #128 of the Fraternal Order of Police, a union representing deputies from the Bel Air, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace police departments. The lodge joined the deputies’ union and the Harford County Correctional Association in the no-confidence stance.
“She has a strong stance on prosecuting crimes,” said Havre de Grace Police Department Sgt. Dan Petz, who is the president of the FOP Lodge. “That platform really resonated with our members.”
Both candidates claim they have Gahler’s support, while Gahler said he has not endorsed, nor will he endorse, either one.
“Out of all the races in Harford County,” Gahler said, “this one, unfortunately, has turned the ugliest, and that’s on everybody’s part.”