The Baltimore Police Department has agreed to dismiss administrative charges against the police union president who was accused of calling a city councilwoman a vulgar name two years ago.
The deal saves the career of Officer Gary McLhinney, who is on leave as an officer, by throwing out accusations that he lied about making profane comments in reference to Councilwoman Sheila Dixon.
The outspoken president of the Fraternal Order of Police has accepted nonpunitive "guidance and counseling" for two counts of using language inappropriate for a police officer, his lawyer, Herbert Weiner, said. The incident occurred in March 1997 at a City Council hearing.
Reports of how the deal was constructed differ.
Officials in the legal affairs office said there was a split among lawyers as to whether the case against McLhinney should be pursued. They said one attorney recommended to acting Police Commissioner John E. Gavrilis that charges connected to lying be dismissed.
Others maintain that Gavrilis ordered the case to "go away."
Gavrilis yesterday denied ordering the dismissal and said the negotiations began Aug. 2 with recommendations from department lawyers who did not feel there was enough evidence to go forward. "It was based strictly on the merits of the case," he said. The false statement charges were dismissed Oct. 14.
But the dismissal offer has angered Police Col. Robert Smith, one of two patrol chiefs, who said he argued with Gavrilis over the decision and complained that the unusual move was evidence of favoritism.
"It should have gone through the process," said Smith, who is scheduled to take over as acting commissioner in mid-November. He noted that an internal investigation had concluded that McLhinney not only used the term, but subsequently lied about it. They filed two counts of false statement charges against McLhinney.
Had he been found guilty of either one of those charges -- regarded as serious because it impacts officer integrity -- it would have meant automatic termination, as is police policy.
"Let the trial board dismiss it or find him not guilty," said Smith, who has written a letter of complaint to the mayor. "This is just not right."
The department has been under scrutiny for years for unfair disciplinary treatment and firing a disproportionate number of black officers. Smith said commanders worked hard to develop new policies to make the system fair and take away discretion that led to favoritism.
Dismissing the case against McLhinney, who is white, "smacks in the face of disparate discipline and treatment," Smith said. "For two years, we've been trying to get this straight, and this sets us back another two years."
Smith noted that many officers have been convicted of lying and fired. Gavrilis said that false statement charges recently filed against nine officers, six of them African-Americans, have been dismissed by department lawyers.
Weiner also denied favoritism against his client and criticized the department for filing charges of a false report against an officer who "denies an allegation."
As part of the deal, Weiner said McLhinney will drop a Baltimore Circuit Court lawsuit he had filed claiming that the departmental charges violated his free speech rights because he was representing his union membership at a governmental function.
Dixon, who is running for City Council president in the Nov. 2 election -- the second-highest elected position in city government -- said that she has made amends with McLhinney.
Dixon said she felt used by some top department officials eager to go after the union president, an outspoken critic of former Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, who quit Oct. 1. "They were using my case to get back at" McLhinney, she said.
The incident stems from a March 6, 1997, City Council hearing on police race relations in which Dixon noted that the union had not always been friendly to black officers and questioned the organization's commitment to racial equality.
McLhinney stormed out of the meeting and, according to former police spokesman Sam Ringgold, said, "I'm not going to listen to that goddamn bitch." Ringgold, along with Dixon, filed a complaint after McLhinney denied making the comment and refused to apologize.
For more than two years, the case wound its way through the Internal Investigation Division, whose detectives concluded McLhinney used the term and then lied about it. Formal disciplinary hearings called trial boards had been scheduled and postponed three times.
Sources in the police department's legal affairs office said that the former director, Gary C. May, wanted to prosecute the case. But after he was transferred to City Hall in April, the file went to Sara E. Angeletti, assistant city solicitor.
Legal affairs sources said she felt the accusations did not constitute a typical false statement case in which an officer writes a false report or lies on a witness stand, and recommended the lying charges be dropped.
Angeletti declined to comment yesterday.
The sources said Frazier overruled her and ordered the case to go forward. Frazier left Oct. 1, and the sources said May's replacement, Jerome Nicholas, sent Angeletti a note saying: "Spoken to PC [Gavrilis]. He wants this to go away. Make it happen."
Nicholas could not be reached to comment.