1990 was the year for dirty politics in Carroll County.

The new year was only 17 days old and the real campaigning yet to begin, when an anonymous tip sent the media after a story that then-Carroll Commissioner Jeff Griffith was stopped by the County Drug Coordinating Committee and his car was searched.

Although no drugs were found in Griffith's car and no charges were filed, questions about Griffith, the motives for the investigation, and the methods of the drug task force began to swirl. Griffith took drug screening and lie detector tests on his own and released findings he said cleared him.

Not only did the controversy follow Griffith throughout his unsuccessful campaign for state Senate, it became the first of many bitter charges leveled by incumbent Thomas E. Hickman and challenger Jerry F. Barnes in the race for county state's attorney.

Just after Barnes switched to the Democratic Party to announce his candidacy in December and resigned the assistant state's attorney post he had for 13 years, Hickman accused Barnes and his wife, reporter Carmen Amedori, of leaking information to the press and spreading rumors that the GOP prosecutor tried to cover up the Griffith investigation.

Barnes responded by demanding the state special prosecutor investigate Hickman's actions, later calling for the state attorney's resignation from the commission that appoints the state special prosecutor to avoid a conflict of interest. The state attorney general agreed, and Hickman eventually resigned from the panel.

Hickman also asked that the actions of Barnes and his wife be investigated.

The pattern of charge and countercharge between Barnes and Hickman continued throughout the year. Barnes questioned Hickman's association with a county defense lawyer, who also served as Griffith's lawyer. Hickman continued to say there was no impropriety in any of his actions.

Things were quiet in the campaign until a live cable television debate Oct. 16, when Hickman accused Barnes of associating with "known criminals" and then detailed the stopping and searching of a car belonging to Scott Markle, a former Barnes campaign chairman.

A few days after the debate, Hickman displayed police reports of Markle's search by the Drug Coordinating Committee before a group of reporters. Although Markle never was charged, Hickman told the press the 29-year-old president of the Carroll Democratic Club admitted to using drugs.

Two days later, Markle called a press conference and read a statement questioning the actions of the Coordinating Committee and accusing the officers of coercing him into becoming a police informant in a drug "witch hunt" against county Democrats.

Barnes again called for the state special prosecutor to investigate Hickman's actions in the Markle case, particularly in releasing the report.

The events involving Griffith came full circle just days before the election when the special prosecutor released his report on the actions of the drug task force, Hickman, Barnes and his wife. Although the prosecutor found many actions he called "unusual," the report did not find any laws were broken. He did, however, raise questions about methods used by the committee.

The special prosecutor's investigation of Hickman's actions in the Markle case has yet to be concluded.

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