The state attorney general's office is investigating a Westminster police officer for allegedly trying to plant drugs on suspects, an inquiry that could force the dismissal of more than a hundred criminal drug cases in which the officer was involved, officials said yesterday.
Reading from a statement at a news conference, Westminster Police Chief Roger Joneckis said he learned of complaints against the officer Dec. 15 and Jan. 5, then requested an investigation by state police, who referred the matter to the attorney general's office.
The complaints, copies of which were obtained by The Sun, were filed by other members of the police force beginning in July, according to an official close to the investigation who requested anonymity.
Officer 1st Class Richard Ruby, a detective in the force's criminal investigation division, was relieved of police powers Friday and suspended with pay, the official said.
Attempts to reach Ruby yesterday at his home were not successful. Messages forwarded through police headquarters in Westminster were not returned.
Joneckis, who declined to identify the officer under investigation, said, "Within the last several weeks, information has been developed from reliable sources that has led to an allegation of inappropriate actions taken by an officer."
Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes said his staff had identified 104 pending cases involving the officer and that his staff had "immediate ethical and legal obligation" to tell defense lawyers of the allegations against the officer. Sixty-three of the cases began after July 17, when the first complaint was received by Westminster police.
"A vast majority of the pending cases may be dismissed to maintain the integrity of this office and the criminal justice system," Barnes said.
Police should have notified his office immediately after receiving the first complaint, he said, adding that his staff will review "approximately four years" of closed cases.
According to court records, prosecutors have dropped three narcotics cases in the past week. Ruby was listed as the officer making the arrest or as a witness in each case.
"I know only that they were [not prosecuted] because of Ruby," said Judson K. Larrimore supervisory attorney for the county public defender's office.
In one of the written complaints against the officer, a member of the police force who had patted down a suspect, said that Ruby produced a plastic bag containing what appeared to be marijuana, then handed it to her and nodded toward the suspect. The officer said she returned the bag to Ruby, telling him "he was crazy."
In the second complaint, an officer reported seeing Ruby toss something into a car occupied by two women and later retrieve from the car a plastic bag with what appeared to be marijuana. The officer said he told Ruby his actions were wrong and that Ruby replied, "It's been done before."
No arrests were made in either incident, Barnes said.
Barnes said Assistant Attorney General Carolyn H. Henneman notified him of the investigation Jan. 21. A spokesman for the attorney general's office declined to comment. Henneman could not be reached for comment.
Joneckis was appointed police chief in September after his predecessor, Sam Leppo, who had held the position for 23 years, was killed in a traffic accident in Frederick County.
Larrimore, head of the public defender's office, said anyone convicted in a case involving evidence determined to be tainted could request a new trial or seek to have the original charge dropped.
Sun staff writer Sheridan Lyons contributed to this article.