A St. Mary's County grand jury has indicted a ranking Department of Natural Resources police officer on charges stemming from an investigation into alleged violations of the state law protecting rockfish, according to court records.
Capt. James Sweigart Coffroad Jr., deputy chief of the DNR's service bureau, was indicted Friday on charges of obstruction of justice, misconduct in office and conspiracy, said Assistant Attorney General Norman L. Smith.
Captain Coffroad allegedly tipped off a waterman about a search warrant DNR had obtained.
Afterward, DNR executed the search warrant and failed to turn up documents that were being sought in the investigation, according to court documents.
Mr. Smith said criminal summonses were issued to Captain Coffroad and Robert T. Brown, a St. Mary's County waterman, TTC requiring them to appear Oct. 8 in St. Mary's County Circuit Court for arraignment.
The grand jury indicted Mr. Brown on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy, Mr. Smith said.
A DNR spokesman said no charges were filed against Mr. Brown in connection with the law protecting rockfish.
Captain Coffroad, an 18-year DNR veteran, has also been ordered to appear in Charles County Circuit Court -- where the search warrant was signed -- Oct. 27 to explain why he should not be found in criminal contempt of court for allegedly revealing the contents of the warrant before it was served, Mr. Smith said.
Col. Franklin I. Wood, head of the DNR, said Captain Coffroad was suspended with pay Monday after DNR officials learned of the indictment.
The 40-year-old captain will remain suspended until the matter is resolved, Colonel Wood said.
State officials have imposed stringent rockfish limitations since 1985 because of the decline of the fish in the Chesapeake Bay.
According to the petition filed in Charles County Circuit Court, the search warrant was issued "on or about Sept. 16, 1992," for a residence in Avenue, a town in St. Mary's County.
The petition charged that on Sept. 20, 1992, Captain Coffroad notified people living at or near the premises to be searched that DNR officers were to serve the warrant the following day.