The state prosecutor's office has taken over the investigation of Harford County's sheriff, which could widen the case to include possible criminal misconduct.
The move by the state prosecutor, acknowledged yesterday by law enforcement officials, halts a personnel investigation involving a complaint against Harford County Sheriff Joseph P. Meadows, 42.
Meadows has been out of the office on paid leave since the complaint was referred to Howard County police Feb. 10 by the Harford agency's second in command, Deputy Chief Thomas Golding.
The nature of the complaint, filed by a female employee of the sheriff's office, has not been disclosed.
The prosecutor's office investigates matters of criminal misconduct, bribery, enforcement of state elections and ethics standards. A government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said this case would probably focus on criminal misconduct.
The Harford County Sheriff's Office confirmed the change of course yesterday in a prepared statement:
"The Harford County Sheriff's Office internal investigation into the personnel complaint filed against Sheriff Joseph P. Meadows has been suspended "at the request of the Maryland Office of the State Prosecutor, which will be conducting its own investigation into the matter."
"The Howard County Police Department had been conducting the internal investigation at the request of Col. Tom Golding, chief deputy of the Harford County Sheriff's Office. Howard County has now suspended its investigation pending the outcome of the State Prosecutor's investigation."
"The Harford County Sheriff's Office will continue to cooperate fully with investigators. Because this investigation is now in the hands of another agency, the Sheriff's Office will be unable to comment further on the matter except to say that it will continue to cooperate fully with investigators.
" All future media inquiries should be addressed to the Maryland Office of the State Prosecutor."
Kathleen Cahill, a Towson lawyer in private practice, is representing the woman. She said yesterday of the state prosecutor's involvement: "We are pleased that there will be a truly independent investigation and hope that other employees of the Sheriff's Office also find it a safer atmosphere to report what they know."
James I. Cabezas, chief investigator for the prosecutor, said yesterday that the office has handled several cases involving sheriffs in the past decade or so. "In the last 15 years, we have had 10 complaints against elected sheriffs," Cabezas said.
"Of those, three have resulted in criminal charges and successful prosecutions. One resulted in a resignation."
In 1988, Baltimore City Sheriff Shelton J. Stewart Jr. was convicted on obstruction of justice charges for trying to stop a state prosecutor's investigation into Shelton's alleged understating of fund-raiser receipts during his 1986 campaign.
In 1998, Garrett County Sheriff Randy Sines pleaded guilty to misconduct in office for misusing an agency credit card.
In May 2001, Calvert County Sheriff Vonzell Ward resigned during the prosecutor's office investigation into the sheriff's alleged harassment of a woman involved in a complaint against one of the force's deputies.