Jerry Barnes' Fishing Expedition



Jerry F. Barnes was no longer an assistant state's attorney when the Carroll County Drug Enforcement Coordinating Committee searched J. Jeffrey Griffith for drugs in January 1990. An editorial Friday failed to mention that Mr. Barnes had resigned six weeks before the investigation began.

In the United States, we pride ourselves on not following the examples of totalitarian countries, where third- and fourth-hand information from questionable confidential sources is used to entrap political enemies. But four years ago, Carroll County drug investigators behaved in a fashion that would have made the KGB or Gestapo proud.

In a recent opinion, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz dismissed a complaint by former Carroll Commissioner J. Jeffrey Griffith against members of the county's former Drug Enforcement Coordinating Committee (the precursor to the county's Narcotics Task Force). But his ruling nevertheless painted a profoundly troubling picture of that drug investigation. Particularly disturbing was the behavior of the assistant state's attorney who initiated the faulty investigation against Mr. Griffith and who wants to be the county's next state's attorney, Jerry F. Barnes.

Judge Motz' opinion reinforces our belief that Carroll needs a new state's attorney with no ties to the past or present administration of that office.

On the strength of nothing more than idle gossip from his then-fiancee that Mr. Griffith used marijuana, Mr. Barnes implicated him as a drug user. As a result, county drug investigators followed Mr. Griffith, conducted a "dog-sniff" search of his car and then detained and strip-searched him. No drugs were ever found and no charges were ever brought. But the investigation left a cloud over Mr. Griffith and crippled a promising political career.

Mr. Barnes apparently was not troubled that his informants had never witnessed Mr. Griffith using or possessing drugs. To Mr. Barnes, these tips were concrete information worth acting on. In Judge Motz's view, they were "unreliable." The judge concluded, "A reasonable person might well conclude that members of the DECC exercised poor judgment in investigating. . . on the basis of second-hand information."

If those unfounded tips were sufficient for Mr. Barnes to initiate a drug investigation, could a vindictive neighbor, spouse, employee or anyone else with a grudge fabricate a story and implicate an innocent person? Carroll's voters must be convinced that in his zeal to arrest drug dealers and users, Jerry Barnes would rely on more than rumor to launch criminal investigations.

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