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The Baltimore police union sharply criticized the Police Department's decision to charge an officer with misconduct after an investigation into the use of police resources during state Del. Jon S. Cardin's marriage proposal last summer, saying the punishment was overly harsh and blame should fall on the legislator.

"It is, at minimum, a training issue," said Fraternal Order of Police President Robert F. Cherry, adding that the department would not have sustained the charge "if they agency had any backbone."

"Put blame where blame belongs: That's on Delegate Cardin, not our police officers," Cherry said.

Cherry said Cardin, the nephew of U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, flexed political muscle by asking police to participate in a stunt that involved a helicopter and officers boarding a boat that carried Cardin in the Baltimore harbor, and that the department is caving to public pressure.

In announcing Friday that an officer had been charged internally, the department said the marine unit and helicopter are often used "in activities to project a positive public image and build relations with the community," but that it had determined that staging an Aug. 7 mock raid during Cardin's proposal didn't fit that criteria.

The unnamed officer "improperly exercised his discretion," the department said in a statement, and could face termination as a result of the charges.

Cherry said the union will defend the officer through the department's internal discipline process.

Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat, declined comment Monday. Asked for his reaction to the charge and whether he believed it was an appropriate penalty, Cardin said he saw the Police Department's statement but "didn't know enough to be able to comment."

"I have done what I can to apologize and try and let people know that I felt bad for the distraction and problems that it may have caused," Cardin said in a phone interview. "I don't really have any comment except to say I'm sorry for the distraction that I caused."

Cardin reimbursed the Police Department $300 for its role, an amount that officials said covered fuel and salary costs for the police helicopter and marine unit. He also made a donation to the department's horse unit. But he has declined to provide many details surrounding what happened, and the police statement offered little additional insight.

Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III had promised a full accounting of the incident earlier this year, and said "I wouldn't have any problem making public everything that we could legally do, in terms of our discipline records."

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the department followed through on that promise, noting that police are restricted in what they can release because the charges have been leveled internally. "What was released is what was approved by our legal counsel, given the situation the case is in now," Guglielmi said.

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