The Anne Arundel County Police Department is reforming one of its units that provides security for the county executive following an investigation of a former executive convicted of using the officers for political and personal purposes nearly a decade ago.
The reforms of the department’s Executive Protection Detail are the result of a four-month “ground-up review” of former county executive John Leopold’s protection detail, who was convicted in 2013 on two counts of misconduct in office for having his staff and security detail help with political work, including collecting campaign contribution checks and personal tasks like emptying his catheter bag. Leopold has maintained his innocence and said his conviction was the result of poor counsel.
Deputy Police Chief William Lowry, who served as acting chief from Aug. 1 until Dec. 17, conducted the review of Leopold’s actions during his time in office from 2006 to 2013.
From that review, Lowry drafted new procedures explicitly prohibiting officers in the unit from doing personal or political work for the county executive. Actions like carrying or depositing campaign checks, soliciting political donations, and placing campaign signs are some of the numerous acts now forbidden under procedures that went into effect on Dec. 12.
Leopold, in an interview Wednesday, said he supported additional oversight for the unit because there was “a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity” about how the unit could be used during his time in office. Leopold said he was advised to use his security detail for help because he was recovering from surgery but was never told which tasks were allowed and which were not.
“I think it’s an excellent idea to have clear lines of authority so that everybody knows — the officers, as well as the elected officials — know exactly what the guardrails are,” Leopold said. “What you can and cannot do. What’s appropriate what’s inappropriate, because that guidance, was never given to me.”
The changes in the unit’s procedures were made to document prior changes that had already been implemented but never formalized, Lowry said, and to “provide enhanced oversight and management, install checks and balances in decisions being made at the Police Department’s Executive level” regarding unit activities and “enhance the public trust and confidence.”
“The Anne Arundel County Police Department cannot allow the intolerable actions of the parties involved in this travesty of justice to occur again,” Lowry wrote in a Dec. 14 letter outlining the reforms.
Since he was not working for the department during the Leopold administration and thus not familiar with what took place, it was his responsibility as acting chief to complete the review, Lowry said in a statement.
“After an extensive review of the decisions of the parties involved during the timeframe in this issue, I ascertained that the actions of certain members of the Anne Arundel County Police Department were a travesty on the law enforcement profession, the Anne Arundel County Police Department, and the citizens of this County,” he said. “The citizens of Anne Arundel County deserve our best. Ethics, morality, honesty, and truthfulness cannot be compromised.”
In addition to the reforms, Lowry confirmed that Leopold had compiled opposition research files on a list of perceived political opponents with his security detail’s help. One of the people Leopold kept a file on was longtime civil rights activist Carl Snowden.
Last July, Snowden, a plaintiff in a 2012 ACLU lawsuit against the Republican executive, requested then-Chief Tim Altomare to conduct an internal review of Leopold. After Altomare resigned on July 31, and Lowry was named acting chief, Lowry met with Snowden and committed to conducting a “thorough analysis” of the incident, he wrote.
During Leopold’s tenure, the unit was overseen by the department’s Intelligence Section. It “had minimal supervision,” few meaningful standard operating procedures, and little specialized training or oversight of their work hours, overtime or work schedules, Lowry wrote.
The unit “participated in other activities, both political and non-political, that without question deteriorated the vital trust” between the police department and the community, he wrote. Lowry’s report does not include specific examples of impropriety by unit members. He also declined to provide details about an internal affairs investigation conducted on the unit in 2012. He did, however, explain the contours of his investigation.
He spoke to prosecutors in Leopold’s case and reviewed the dossiers compiled by members of the detail and more than 1,300 transcript pages. He was briefed by a former Office Law attorney on the ACLU case, who provided dossiers on citizens containing National Crime Information Center checks, FBI criminal history searches, Maryland Motor Vehicle data and other information.
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Moving forward, the unit, which is now overseen by the Commander of the Office of Professional Standards, will have all overtime and transfer requests approved by the police chief who consults with the department leadership and legal staff about transfers so “that favoritism, retaliation, etc. cannot be in play,” Lowry wrote.
Lowry’s new procedures now require periodic checks on unit members’ search history of those databases to ensure they are being used appropriately.
The reforms are a “vindication” and a sign that proper law enforcement oversight is needed, Snowden said.
“It’s making sure that history assigns the correct version of what occurred,” he said. “It should serve as a warning to future county executives, and the citizenry, of the importance of making sure that there are the checks and balances, that police reform is needed.”
Leopold’s 2013 conviction resulted in him serving 30 days jail time and 30 days of house arrest. He was acquitted on other charges of misappropriating funds and using his security detail to drive him to a bowling alley parking lot for sexual liaisons with a county employee.
He was also forbidden from running for office for five years, but that was later dropped on appeal. He then ran for District 31B delegate in the 2018 primary but was defeated. At the time, he said he had “paid his dues” and “learned my lesson and moved on.”
In January 2019, Leopold requested a hearing to argue his conviction should be vacated because his defense attorneys represented him ineffectively, among other claims. The request was denied. He is now a member of the county food bank.