- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2001

LA PLATA, Md. — A Maryland State Police officer will find out later this month whether he will be tried within the department for allegations tied to mail-fraud charges he was acquitted of in 1999.
Circuit Court Judge Christopher Henderson said he would issue a written opinion by July 31 about whether state police officials violated Maryland State Police Sgt. Michael R. White's rights in filing nine administrative charges.
The Department of Justice is investigating complaints that the federal prosecutor's office in Maryland — under then-U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia, who is now a judge on the Maryland Court of Appeals — destroyed evidence and leaked secret grand jury testimony to sustain misconduct charges against Sgt. White.
The charges were tied to allegations made in 1995 that Sgt. White had done secret inspections for a business that sold cars rebuilt with stolen parts.
Among them is a charge that Sgt. White disobeyed an order to stop performing inspections. Judge Henderson noted in court yesterday that the officer who supposedly gave that order "testified in the federal criminal trial that he never gave such an order."
Both the criminal and administrative case against Sgt. White relied heavily on an investigator's recall of his interview of Sgt. White. Tape recordings of that interview turned up blank, and witnesses challenged the investigator's account.
In closing arguments, attorney Byron L. Warnken said a lack of sufficient evidence is one of three grounds for finding that the state violated Sgt. White's rights.
Mr. Warnken said a major reason is that the only signed charges are dated a day past the deadline for filing them. He also noted that although witnesses — including Lt. Paul Kelly, who signed the charges as Sgt. White's commander — acknowledged that the commander's signature is the legally significant event, none could attest to another specific date on which the charges were signed.
The General Assembly created a statute of limitations for such charges in 1988 "to keep matters from hanging over police officers' heads," Mr. Warnken said.
Another reason, Mr. Warnken argued, is discrepancies in claims about when Lt. Kelly went to the state police legal counsel's office to review the case file and prepare the charges and a routing slip that suggests the case file wasn't there on that date.
"There's tremendous amount of confusion or misrecollection [and] strong circumstantial evidence that when Lt. Kelly told a number of people 'I know nothing about this — I'm only the messenger' he was telling the truth," Mr. Warnken said.
Assistant Attorney General Betty S. Sconion said the allegations against Sgt. White are severe and that the allegation that the state police missed the deadline by one day is minor in comparison and shouldn't be grounds for dismissing the charges.
And she argued that a commander's signature is not the only way to show he is filing charges, but that approving charges is evidence of filing them.
But the judge questioned that argument.
"How can you have an approval without anyone signing something?" Judge Henderson asked her. "It's like having an indictment without the signature of the state's attorney or the grand jury foreman."
Miss Sconion said the requirement that filed charges be signed is not a police officer's right, but a management requirement created by Col. David Mitchell as state police superintendent, and that, as such, it could be changed by him at any time.
Administrative charges against Sgt. White were all based on salvage inspections state police said he performed for a car dealer later convicted of selling vehicles rebuilt with stolen parts. The charges include that he signed salvage certificates but failed to submit reports for such vehicles, failed to obey an order to stop doing salvage inspections, hurt the police department's reputation by causing fraudulent titles to be issued, got kickbacks from the car dealer, associated with the car dealer whom state police said he should have known was reputed to be a criminal, knowingly filed false reports by not verifying vehicle-identification data, filed one or more inaccurate reports and failed to perform his duties competently.

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