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FOP fights back against Teamsters Ouster of 5 officers sought for support of rival union; Dissidents may sue; Groups in conflict over representation of county police


The beleaguered Fraternal Order of Police is fighting back against efforts by the Teamsters to represent county police officers.

A member of the union representing more than 400 county police officers has asked for a criminal investigation of three members who support the Teamsters, and the local Fraternal Order of Police leadership has begun proceedings to oust those officers and two others from the union.

In a countermove, the five officers have threatened to sue the FOP for libel, charging that the union's accusations have scarred their reputations with fellow officers.

The charges and countercharges demonstrate the near civil war that has developed among the rank and file as an intense political power struggle rages between the FOP and the rival Teamsters union, which represents 1.4 million public and private-sector workers nationwide.

The FOP has represented the officers for 24 years. Teamster organizers began a recruiting effort this year after they were invited to Anne Arundel by disgruntled county police officers, who had lost badly at the bargaining table with county officials in the spring.

A majority of FOP members have signed petitions calling for a vote to let officers choose among the Teamsters, the FOP or no union representation.

In a letter to FOP Lodge 70 President Dennis Howell, retired Officer William T. Wild Jr. said that he had written to the department's Internal Affairs unit requesting a criminal investigation of Officers Richard Colmus, Peter Scarpetta and Robby Thomas, charging that they violated state and federal privacy laws by allegedly trying to tape a December FOP meeting.

In the letter to Howell, dated Dec. 4, Wild wrote that recording the meeting would be "a violation of my right to freely speak my mind on matters which concern the membership of the lodge."

Sgt. Jerard Flemings of the Internal Affairs unit said that he was not sure whether the commander, Lt. James Snow, had received Wild's letter but that no formal complaint has been lodged against the officers.

The officers deny recording any meetings.

"This has destroyed our reputations," Scarpetta said. "We're subject to ridicule from our peers and supervisors."

Howell did not return repeated calls.

Scarpetta said the officers also may challenge the constitutionality of FOP bylaws, which prohibit members from acting against the best interest of the union and from joining more than one labor union.

"The way the bylaws are written, [the FOP] is basically a union monopoly," Scarpetta said. "I was told everything we were doing was constitutional."

The FOP leadership has accused Officers Keith Light and Dwayne Johnson, along with Scarpetta, Colmus and Thomas, of violating those bylaws -- offenses punishable by suspension or expulsion from the union.

Letters sent Dec. 19 by certified mail signed by FOP corresponding secretary Officer Lisa Winters said the officers cast "doubt upon the Lodge and its ability and capability to represent its membership" in fliers bearing the Teamsters logo. The letters also claimed that the "general public of Anne Arundel County was led to believe that Lodge 70 was inept and not capable of representing its membership properly" in letters the officers sent to the editor of the Capital in Annapolis.

The letters also said the officers' "public display of support" and "wearing of [Teamsters] insignias" assimilates them with a rival union, thereby violating FOP bylaws prohibiting dual membership.

Colmus said he thought the charges are an attempt to remove FOP members who have encouraged the Teamsters' move to represent county officers in contract negotiations.

"It's like a Salem witch hunt," Colmus said. "It looks like they singled out those who collected the [Teamster] petition cards. Technically they could suspend all the 420-some members who signed the cards, but do you think they're going to do that?"

According to union bylaws, the charges must be presented to the membership at the next scheduled meeting, which is next month, where the officers may request a hearing before a three-member trial committee. If they waive a hearing, a majority of the members in good standing vote on punishment.

Pub Date: 12/30/96

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