A Waldorf man has been cleared of trespassing charges filed against him in 2020 after he and two others sampled water discharge from a Lothian mobile home park’s wastewater plant, finding concerning levels of pollutants in a nearby creek.
Edward Crooks was charged by police who were called by the staff of Boone’s Mobile Estates on Dec. 8, 2020, when he and two environmental lawyers were seen sampling the public waters nearby. The trio were determining if the mobile home property’s wastewater treatment plant was discharging pollutants beyond the allowed amount. Charging papers say the park had warned Crooks after a prior visit in April 2020 not to enter the premises. Crooks said he believes he was on public land the day he was charged.
More than a year later, Anne Arundel District Judge Danielle M. Mosley ruled Thursday Crooks was not guilty of trespassing.
Mosley’s ruling came before several clean water experts could testify on the accuracy of water quality tests conducted by Crooks and the lawyers along the Galloway Creek. Michael Herman, Crooks’ lawyer, was set on proving his client had assisted with the sampling for the greater good. The defense of necessity wasn’t necessary, though.
“They weren’t even able to prove he was on private property,” Herman said. “The state didn’t even have a case.”
Herman questioned why the misdemeanor case wasn’t dropped before going to trial.
“You should be pinning a medal on this guy,” he said. “You are trying to take the whistle blower, and prosecuting him.”
The tests Crooks helped take throughout 2020 showed concerning levels of E. coli, but amounts of the bacteria tend to fluctuate, and are usually reported as a monthly average, he said.
In its own test reports, the plant has never seen an E. coli average above what is permitted, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data, which says the plant has been in noncompliance for a different reason — discharging drastically higher levels of total suspended solids.
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State environmental regulators have referred violations at Boone’s Mobile Estates to the EPA, said Jay Apperson, a Maryland Department of the Environment spokesperson. Federal regulators list the Lothian wastewater treatment plant as being in significant noncompliance, noting several instances of higher-than-allowed amounts of suspended solids in discharge from the plant.
Crooks said he “can’t claim credit” for the federal investigation into the wastewater plant. He had only hoped the tests could grab their attention.
“There was no harm done,” said Frederick Tutman, the Patuxent Riverkeeper, who was set to testify Thursday afternoon. Tutman was part of the testing crew alongside Crooks in 2020, and they had set out to test waters throughout the south county area, which he described as a “hot spot” of environmental noncompliance.
Smaller, privately-owned wastewater treatment plants are sprawled throughout the Lothian area, Tutman said, and they remain underregulated because when viewed individually, the plants appear to have little environmental impact. But multiple plants stream pollutants into the middle Patuxent River, causing concerning test readings, Tutman said.
“What’s egregious is, it’s been going on for a long time,” he said.
When asked about why charges against Crooks weren’t dropped sooner, Tia Lewis, a spokesperson for Anne Arundel State Attorney’s office said, “Police charged the case, and it went to trial.”
Horizon Land Company, which owns Boone’s, did not return a request to comment on the matter.