Salisbury police chief removed Mayor acts after report finds irregularities in sale of seized cars


SALISBURY -- Salisbury's chief of police has been suspended without pay amid charges of mismanagement and possible criminal wrongdoing in the sale of cars seized by a regional drug task force.

Mayor Barrie Parsons Tilghman ousted Chief Coulbourn Dykes on Monday, charging the 28-year veteran of the city force with neglect of duty, inefficiency and disreputable conduct.

No criminal investigation has begun, authorities said yesterday.

Dykes could not be reached for comment.

His suspension came after a report found numerous irregularities in the disposition of cars seized in drug cases.

For example, a 1988 Ford Tempo was sold for $160, though its estimated worth had been $8,000.

As part of a decade-old agreement, the Salisbury Police Department is responsible for selling seized vehicles and returning the proceeds to the regional drug task force.

The 14-page report was compiled by a former police lieutenant who had been assigned to secretly keep tabs on the unit.

County prosecutors and state and local police said they had no )) warning of Dykes' removal from the 100-member city department, nor have they seen the report that former Lt. Shelley A. McKinney delivered to City Hall on May 22. That was slightly more than two weeks after Tilghman's election to her first public office.

"I realized immediately that this was very serious," Tilghman said yesterday. "From the moment I looked at this memo, I knew I had no choice; this couldn't wait."

McKinney was assigned last fall to the Wicomico County Narcotics Task Force, which includes the county sheriff's department, state police and officers from the Salisbury, Fruitland and Delmar, Del., departments. She was asked by her superiors in the Salisbury police department to evaluate the job performance of task force officers.

Instead, she prepared a report that found problems related to the sales of seized cars.

Among the irregularities:

The purchase price for 36 cars, including a 1988 Mercedes valued at $10,000, was never recorded.

A $15,000 Harley Davidson motorcycle was sold for $3,500, though a potential buyer had offered $10,000.

McKinney, who resigned from the department last month, was not available for comment.

According to her report, McKinney presented her concerns to Wicomico Sheriff R. Hunter Nelms, one of five members of the task force's oversight board, who said it was a problem of poor bookkeeping.

Yesterday, Nelms said he did not remember meeting with McKinney.

"I never entered into conversation with anyone on this," he said. "We will deal with any improprieties on the part of any member of the task force, we will deal with it."

He acknowledged that the task force board had discussed whether to ask for an investigation by an outside agency such as the state attorney general's office, but no decision has been made.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general would not say whether state prosecutors have been contacted about the case.

Meanwhile, state police began an audit last month of the task force, which Maj. Neal Franklin described as among the most active and successful drug units in Maryland.

"We want to complete the full financial audit before anything else," said Franklin, eastern regional commander. "We are looking at the entire 10-year history of the task force. There is an overwhelming amount of information, but we expect to have the audit completed this month."

Yesterday, City Council members supported the mayor's action. But they accused her of playing politics by firing long-time City Solicitor Robert Eaton because of his friendship with Dykes, then appointing Salisbury lawyer Robin Cockey to handle the case against Dykes.

Cockey is a former City Council member who was Tilghman's campaign manager.

The City Charter requires that the chief be given a personnel hearing before the council within 21 days of his suspension to decide whether Dykes will be fired.

"We have no problem with the mayor's action; this has to be a fair and impartial process," said O. Palmer Gillis III, City Council president. "There's a real public perception of conflict of interest. We have to ensure the whole process is clean and pure. We have to make a decision on someone's 28-year career."

Pub Date: 6/04/98

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