Lt. Cliff McWhite resigned with 19 years of service with the Baltimore Police Department.
Lt. Cliff McWhite resigned with 19 years of service with the Baltimore Police Department. (Handout photo)

Citing a conflict of interest, the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office has asked an outside attorney to handle the prosecution of a former Baltimore Police commander accused of using a phony diploma to earn extra pay.

A spokeswoman for the office said State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby is personal friends with the officer, retired Lt. Col. Clifton McWhite, and decided the case should be handled by an independent prosecutor to avoid a conflict.


McWhite was set for trial Wednesday on theft charges related to the accusation that he had obtained a degree from a diploma mill, which allowed him to earn salary incentives.

McWhite's attorney, Ivan Bates, said the case was postponed because city prosecutors referred the prosecution to attorney Steven Kroll, who is the coordinator for the Maryland State's Attorney's Association. Kroll in 2011 was asked by previous State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein to handle a case involving Clerk of Courts Frank M. Conaway Sr. Bernstein had also used outside counsel when one of his sons was criminally charged.

At the time of McWhite's resignation, police said he was leaving for "personal reasons." New documents filed in the case show Deputy Police Commissioners Jerry Rodriguez and Dean Palmere had confronted McWhite about an anonymous letter sent to Police Commissioner Anthony Batts that claimed McWhite had a bogus degree, along with other allegations.

McWhite's transcripts showed a degree from "New York City University."

"When questioned regarding his college transcript, Lt. Col. McWhite admitted that he does not hold a bachelor of science degree," Palmere wrote in an April 11, 2014 letter. "In fact, his transcript was inaccurate and falsified."

It was at that meeting that McWhite wrote a letter of resignation.

McWhite's lawyer Ivan Bates said Rodriguez failed to advise McWhite of his rights before the discussion, and repeatedly told McWhite that if he confessed, Rodriguez would "fix it." Bates says that amounts to "coercion."

Rodriguez said he was asked to investigate by Batts "with a direction from the Commissioner to keep confidential, for my eyes only." He delegated the task to Captain Martin Bartness, who works in his office.

"The first thing I wanted to make sure is either to prove or refute this letter. I personally couldn't believe that a person with -- a member of our department with that rank would do that. I was very skeptical," Rodriguez said, according to a transcript.

Rodriguez said that he and Palmere eventually confronted McWhite about the allegations at the April 11 meeting, according to the transcript of an interview with a prosecutor. Rodriguez said McWhite was an exempt employee and did not have to be advised of his rights under the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, and said he did not advise McWhite of his Miranda rights because he wasn't conducting a criminal investigation.

He was criminally charged in October.