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Good ol' boys alive and well


PUT YOURSELF in P. Thomas Shanahan's moccasins.

You enjoy your job as the Anne Arundel County police chief, a position you hold at the county ex-ecutive's pleasure. You've been an honorable public servant who works hard to protect your community.

You learn that a county fire lieutenant has gotten himself in trouble. He already was arrested twice in a month, for drunken-driving.

Now he's accused of trying to break into a Pasadena home, scaring the wits out of a 72-year-old woman and her grandchildren.

You don't want a fellow public safety servant to go down over an attempted B&E;, but you have to let the case run its usual course. You're confident that officers and the court system will do their job.

Stay out of it, you tell yourself, and justice will prevail.

But this is no ordinary fire lieutenant. The man's father is Michael F. Gilligan, the County Council chairman's lawyer and key advisor to your boss, County Executive Janet S. Owens.

You want justice but you want to keep the boss happy.

Now begins the unfortunate compromise of justice and judgment. You start to wonder what Ms. Owens would expect you to do. Would she expect you to treat the lieutenant, Patrick Gilligan, like every other accused offender? Or would she expect you to -- intervene just this once -- to get her ally's son out of a potentially career-ending jam?

You still know the right thing to do, despite what you might tell reporters later.

Still, is that the right move?

You can't get off the hook that easily. You can't sell out your considerable integrity to please the boss - although she hired you and she certainly can fire you.

But the decision would be easy if you were sure that the county executive had a zero-tolerance policy for political favors. If only you had clear directions from the county administration that everyone -- the privileged and the pauper -- should be judged with the same yardstick when accused of a crime.

Apparently, that's not the case in Anne Arundel County.

Chief Shanahan did what many other people would probably do, unfortunately, under similar circumstances. He decided to release Lieutenant Gilligan and delay filing criminal charges against him while the veteran firefighter seeks alcohol treatment.

The chief said releasing Mr. Gilligan was in the best interest of the fire lieutenant and the county.

Perhaps that argument could fly after the lieutenant's first DWI arrest. But the alleged burglary came one day after his second DWI arrest, on Aug. 22. The 35-year-old fire official was released that day to his father's custody without a bail hearing after the elder Gilllgan promised that his son would get alcohol treatment.

The next day, a frightened elderly woman called police to report that someone was breaking into her home, which had the same house number as Lieutenant Gilligan's several blocks away. Police officials said the lieutenant may have been drunk and confused, but he allegedly threw a lawn chair at the house when the woman yelled for him to leave and was arrested.

Michael Gilligan used the influence that few county residents have to help his son. He called Chief Shanahan before and after the third arrest, asking whether his son could receive emergency hospitalization for alcohol treatment. These two powerful men arranged for Patrick Gilligan's release, a process not normally available to criminal defendants.

Chief Shanahan, a 27-year law enforcement veteran, knew better He later defended his decision by saying he helped someone, but he also helped the cause of political favoritism.

Why did he put his reputation on the line?

Andrew Carpenter, the county executive's spokesman, side-stepped the real issue when he said the chief had the executive's full support. He said: "Modern policing is going more toward considering the mental health of those people police come into conduct with."

Indeed, treatment is a consideratlon. But who makes the call? Can we expect the police chief to show up at every arrest and determine whether a defendant should be sent to alcohol or drug treatment? Or does that special treatment apply only to friends of the executive?

Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle is right when she criticizes the Gilllgan incident as resembling the "good old boys" days.

If you were Chief Shanahan, you'd want to do the right thing, but you'd want to save your job. He should have simply said "no" to Michael Gilligan. But Ms. Owens must set the proper tone. She should tell her department heads that her friends are never entitled to special deals.

And she should tell her influential pals - unequivocally - to stay away from her department heads and take their county business through the same channels the rest of us must use.

Norris West writes editorials for The Sun from Anne Arundel County.

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