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Former officer fights her dismissal

A 10 1/2 -year veteran of the Sykesville police is in Carroll County Circuit Court fighting her recent dismissal from the force, noting that a hearing board had recommended a written reprimand for an incident this spring.

Marcella M. Durham was fired July 3 after an administrative hearing board determined that she had exposed her underwear and buttocks to Police Department secretary Deborah Onheiser May 2.

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Ms. Durham filed a petition for judicial review July 31 in Carroll County Circuit Court. Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold will review Police Chief Wallace P. Mitchell's decision to fire her.

"I fully respect the decision of the police chief and his actions," Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman said. He added that an administrator sometimes needs to look at more than an individual incident when deciding on a course of discipline.

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Chief Mitchell did not return several calls to his office.

According to court records, Ms. Durham entered the police squad room that day scratching her body and, when Mrs. Onheiser asked her about it, lowered her trousers and underwear to show Mrs. Onheiser some red marks.

Subsequently, Mrs. Onheiser filed charges of conduct unbecoming a police officer and sexual harassment against Ms. Durham.

"Mrs. Onheiser did not voluntarily submit to exposure in order to observe evidence of a medical condition experienced by Corporal Durham," the administrative hearing board's report said.

"The exposure . . . was spontaneous and did not permit Mrs.

Onheiser time to object to it."

Although the administrative hearing board found that Ms. Durham had behaved inappropriately, it dismissed the charges of sexual harassment, noting that the action was "not sexual in nature."

The hearing board, which noted that Ms. Durham had been "a motivated professional for 10 1/2 years," also recommended that the former officer be given a written reprimand for the incident.

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In addition, board members noted that Ms. Durham's behavior had changed since her mother died last fall.

"The only adverse material in her record was an uninvestigated allegation in which she only admits to acknowledging there was an allegation," the report said. "The board believes that . . . the written reprimand would serve to get the corporal back to the pattern of behavior reflected in her record."

Nevertheless, Ms. Durham was fired three weeks later.

Ms. Durham's attorney, Frank Collins of Baltimore, did not return calls to his office.



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