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Drug suspect sues for return of car


The Carroll County state's attorney's office plans to start forfeiture proceedings to obtain title to a car belonging to Michael D. Magruder, a drug defendant, while he sues to recover the vehicle.

Mr. Magruder is suing the Westminster Police Department to break an agreement he made to "buy back" his confiscated car.

Mr. Magruder, 23, of the first block of S. Charles St. in

Westminster, was arrested Dec. 1 and charged by city police with possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia.

According to court charging documents, police seized his 1989 Ford Escort because they found cocaine in it.

Mr. Magruder's suit alleges that Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker offered to "sell" his car back to him for $1,000, then agreed to accept $500. Mr. Walker is coordinator of the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force.

Mr. Magruder was to pay Westminster Police Chief Sam R. Leppo, who handles all seized property for the task force, in two installments, $300 on Dec. 13 and $200 on Dec. 17.

In a Dec. 23 letter to Mr. Magruder, Chief Leppo says it is his understanding that the state's attorney's office is filing a petition for the forfeiture of the Escort.

Judith S. Stainbrook, Mr. Magruder's attorney, said Mr. Magruder has not been served with forfeiture documents.

Prosecutors have 45 days from the time the car was seized to file forfeiture papers against the vehicle, Ms. Stainbrook said.

On Dec. 14, Westminster police officers went to Shoney's restaurant in Westminster, Mr. Magruder's place of employment, return the $200 he had paid to the Westminster police, Ms. Stainbrook said.

"The police went busting into his workplace to give him this $200," she said. "I think he was upset they decided to visit him at work, since they know his home address."

In a Dec. 21 ruling, Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck, Sr. denied Mr. Magruder's emergency request for the city police to return his car immediately. Judge Beck ruled that Mr. Magruder's loss of his car was not an emergency situation and ordered another hearing after the complaint has been served on all parties.

The lawsuit against Chief Leppo alleges that the agreement between the police chief and Mr. Magruder is unconstitutional.

County Commissioner Julia W. Gouge has criticized the task force's buy-back arrangements as unfair, with the potential for prosecutorial abuse.

Mr. Walker and the task force have said the buy-back policy is a quick and equitable way to settle forfeiture issues and is an effective weapon in the war on drugs.

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