Commissioners split over plans for drug strike force


Carroll Sheriff John H. Brown's decision to start his own drug unit has caused a split among the County Commissioners over the propriety of allowing the sheriff to conduct narcotics investigations.

On Friday, Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown and his colleagues called a press conference to affirm publicly their support of state police drug enforcement efforts in the county.

But behind that apparently unified declaration of support is a disagreement between Commissioner Brown and the other two commissioners over Sheriff John H. Brown's role in the drug eradication business.

"The sheriff's mandated duties are to man and staff the detention center and provide courthouse security," Commissioner Brown said Friday when asked if the show of support for the state police was really just a way to dissuade Sheriff Brown from creating his own drug enforcement unit.

"I can't specifically answer that, but I believe the sheriff should stick to his mandated duties. I really feel we all have to draw our own conclusions," he said.

According to Commissioner Richard T. Yates -- who does not oppose Sheriff Brown's strike force plans -- it was Commissioner Brown who pushed for the statement of state police support.

"I don't care which police agency is doing the drug work, as long as they don't conflict with each other and they are able to get the job done," Mr. Yates said late Friday.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell concurred, and he and Mr. Yates voted last month to give the sheriff $2,500 in start-up money for the strike force over Mr. Brown's objections.

The money, according to Mr. Dell, was already forfeited drug proceeds that Sheriff Brown wanted to use to make undercover drug buys.

Sheriff Brown, whose withdrawal from the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force last month effectively destroyed the 7-year-old unit, said he intends to conduct his own drug investigations with a four-member Sheriff's Drug Strike Force, and he doesn't care whether Commissioner Brown approves.

'He doesn't run my office'

"Look, he doesn't run my office, I do," Sheriff Brown said.

"The citizens of Carroll County have said they want the drugs off the street, and I will do what I can to get the drugs off the street."

Commissioner Brown has been critical of the sheriff's decision to pull out of the task force, although he, as mayor of Westminster, nTC unsuccessfully proposed an oversight committee of the drug group when Thomas E. Hickman was state's attorney.

In an Aug. 24 letter to the sheriff, the commissioner said he was dismayed that efforts to "reconcile differences" among the sheriff, state's attorney and state police had not taken place.

In response to the sheriff's suggestion of a strike force, the commissioner wrote:

"I'm reminded of the old adage, 'You can act in haste and regret at your leisure.' There may be merit in what you propose; but I see a need for government to be a good bit more demanding of substantive dialogue and documentation before giving support. . ."

Sheriff Brown remains committed to the strike force, he said, and he has no intention of joining a countywide drug task force."

"One of the reasons I pulled out of the task force on Aug. 3, 1995 was because I felt that politics had crept into what was once a very effective and successful team," the sheriff wrote in a letter sent to Commissioner Brown on Thursday.

The county's drug task force was once made up of officers from the sheriff's department, the state police and the Westminster Police Department, who were under the supervision of the county state's attorney's office.

In July, Westminster Police Chief Sam R. Leppo pulled his officer out of the task force, citing difficulties with Carroll State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes.

A week later, Sheriff Brown pulled his three deputies from the unit, also citing differences with Mr. Barnes.

The departures of both departments left the task force %o comprising only state troopers.

Support for state unit

On Friday, the commissioners said they "support the work of the Maryland State Police Drug Task Force and other authorized police agencies whose purpose is to eliminate the illegal use of drugs in Carroll County."

The state police drug enforcement division has five troopers assigned to narcotics investigation in Carroll County.

One of the other results of the task force's disintegration was the removal of Mr. Barnes as the person responsible for handling the seizure and forfeiture of suspected drug assets.

That function is now performed by the state attorney general's office.

State police officials said last week, however, that they were considering giving that authority back to Mr. Barnes' office.

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