A defense attorney went to court yesterday to demand the personnel records of a former clerk in the county Police Department's property room -- where drugs are stored -- who admitted participating in a Baltimore drug deal last spring.
Clarke Ahlers of Columbia argued during a Howard Circuit Court hearing that the records, including the findings of a Police Department internal affairs investigation of the civilian employee, should be provided for him to prepare the defense of a client accused of dealing drugs.
Mr. Ahlers said the allegations against the clerk and the department's investigation call into question whether drugs produced as evidence at trials have been tampered with while stored in the police property room.
He said the case could lead defense attorneys to challenge narcotics evidence in scores of drug cases handled by the Police Department during the past several years.
"This investigation was designed to clear the man so that the police wouldn't have to admit to this chain-of-custody problem," Mr. Ahlers said after yesterday's hearing.
The clerk, Ray Leonardy, is the subject of the investigation that began in April when he told his property room supervisor that he gave money to his girlfriend and accompanied her as she bought heroin in Baltimore.
Mr. Leonardy, who has not been charged with a crime, declined to discuss the case, saying, "I wish I could say something, but I really can't comment."
Mr. Leonardy, 49, had been assigned to the Police Department's Property and Evidence Bureau since he was hired in April 1989, said Sgt. Steven Keller, spokesman for the department.
At the bureau, Mr. Leonardy was responsible for maintaining narcotics seized as evidence in drug cases.
In May, after the department's internal investigation was done, Sergeant Keller said Mr. Leonardy was transferred to the Quartermaster Bureau, which orders and issues department supplies.
Sergeant Keller said the department will investigate Mr. Ahlers' assertions.
Details of the internal investigation were not disclosed at yesterday's hearing. The report will not be publicly available unless Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr. grants Mr. Ahlers' request for the records.
Assistant State's Attorney Robert Voss argued that the records should not be released, saying they are protected by confidentiality laws. Judge Sybert may issue a ruling in the case today or Monday.
lTC yesterday's hearing, Lt. Herman Charity, supervisor of the department's internal affairs division, testified that Mr. Leonardy was cleared of any wrongdoing after a 17-day investigation.
Mr. Leonardy was required to take a drug-screening test, which showed he had no narcotics in his system, Lieutenant Charity said.
In addition, the supervisor of the department's property room conducted an inventory of the evidence in storage and found "no improprieties," Lieutenant Charity said.
However, the lieutenant acknowledged that investigators did not question any witnesses of the reported drug deal, relying only on Mr. Leonardy's statements. He also said the department never referred the case to Baltimore authorities for a criminal investigation.
Lieutenant Charity said he never saw an internal investigation handled the way Mr. Leonardy's case was done.
"I wasn't told to do a criminal investigation," he said.
Mr. Ahlers, who was a police officer for 14 years before becoming a lawyer, wants the documents for the defense of Gregory P. Williams Sr., a 25-year-old Baltimore man charged with four drug possession charges. He is scheduled for trial in September.
Arrested April 15
Mr. Williams was arrested April 15 during a police raid at an apartment building in the 9500 block of Cedar Lane in Columbia. Police found two bags of crack cocaine in the building.
Mr. Ahlers said he learned of the incident involving Mr. Leonardy when a citizen asked for advice about getting a relative into a drug-rehabilitation program in an unrelated case. The citizen told Mr. Ahlers that the relative had gotten drugs from Mr. Leonardy.
The attorney said he notified police officials and was told that Mr. Leonardy was being investigated.
Mr. Ahlers said he later learned that Mr. Leonardy was a possible witness in the case against Mr. Williams because he had handled the drugs seized during the raid in Columbia.
Mr. Ahlers said he intends to use Mr. Leonardy's record to discredit the way police handled his client's case, thus creating reasonable doubt so that a jury will find his client not guilty of the charges.
"That system is tainted by a police employee," Mr. Ahlers said.
But Mr. Voss defended the way the Police Department handled the incident involving Mr. Leonardy. "They took the necessary steps and conducted a sufficient investigation," the prosecutor said.
Mr. Voss said that he doesn't share Mr. Ahlers' concerns that narcotics evidence in the Police Department's property room could have been tampered with by Mr. Leonardy.
"Otherwise, I wouldn't be going forward with this case," he said.