The Montgomery County Ethics Commission ruled yesterday that Police Chief Charles A. Moose cannot write a book or consult for a movie based on last fall's sniper investigation because he would be profiting from the prestige of his office.
Moose, who became the anguished public face of law enforcement during the sniper attacks that killed 10 people in the Washington region in October, can appeal the decision to Circuit Court.
Moose had not received word of the ethics commission's decision yesterday. He is a major in the Air National Guard and was called up Tuesday as part of the war mobilization, said his attorney, Ronald Karp.
"Until he has a chance to catch his breath and stop focusing on the war, I won't have a chance to sit down with him and go over his options," Karp said. But he added, "A court challenge is on the horizon."
Moose signed a deal in January to write a book, Three Weeks in October: The Manhunt for the D.C. Sniper, to be published in the fall by Dutton. He also agreed to consult for a television movie. He has not disclosed the terms of those deals.
But the county's ethics commission said the movie and book deals violate the portion of the ethics law that prohibits employees from using the prestige of their office for private gain.
In a six-page opinion, the commission said, "It is not in the best interest of the County to allow its employees to 'trade on' their government activities for private gain in such a direct and immediate fashion."
The commission said there "may be more harm than good" in allowing Moose to write the book and consult for the movie because it would diminish citizens' faith in their public servants and erode their trust in government.
"I totally disagree with the opinion," said Moose's wife, Sandy, adding that she had not given much thought to the decision. "I'm more focused on the safety of our men and women at war, and on my own husband's future."
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan had argued on Moose's behalf, noting in a letter to the commission that Moose might leave the county if the deals weren't approved. Moose recently interviewed for the police chief's job in Prince George's County, though he did not get it.
In a statement yesterday, Duncan said, "I continue to feel strongly that the chief should have the opportunity to tell not only the story of his life's work in law enforcement, but also his story about the tragic events of last October, when he led an extraordinary team of investigators through three of the most tragic and chilling weeks in this nation's history."
Moose's lawyer said the commission's decision was "seriously flawed" and based more on politics than law.
"The county executive decided it was in the best interest of the county for Chief Moose to write this book, and then you have five unelected commissioners saying they disagree," Karp said. "If that's not a political decision, then I don't know what is."
Moose, 49, has been Montgomery County police chief since 1999 and is paid $160,000.
He has said that he would allow the county and prosecutors in the sniper cases to review his book before publication. But the ethics commission was concerned about what might be revealed.