- The Washington Times - Friday, November 1, 2002

Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose yesterday said he remained at the helm of the multiagency task force that investigated the sniper rampage and that federal officials never usurped his authority.

"I know it's a myth that [federal authorities] come in and take over [high-profile cases] and don't respect you, but that didn't happen," Chief Moose said in an interview with The Washington Times at police headquarters in Rockville.

He denied reports that he was merely the public face of the investigation and that his press conferences were coached or scripted by federal authorities. The chief said that the only time his statements were scripted was when he was trying to establish communication with the sniper through media outlets.

Chief Moose attributed the success of the task force in part to his "participatory" management style in which he delegates duties to people according to the strongest law-enforcement skills they demonstrate. "I let people do what they do well," he said.

Chief Moose cited himself as an example. He did not interview the suspects John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17 after their capture because that is not his job.

"I chose the supervisory [career] path, not the detective path," he said.

Asked if he ever felt out of his league during the investigation, he said county police officers worked very hard. But as the sniper cases mounted, there came a time when he knew he needed help, and he asked for it from federal law-enforcement agencies like the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

"I find the team concept very helpful," he said.

Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo are suspected of committing a three-week sniper rampage that left 10 persons dead and three others wounded in Maryland, Virginia and the District. Six persons were killed in Montgomery County, where the first and last shootings occurred last month.

Chief Moose said that in the police community asking for help can be seen as a sign of weakness, but he hoped some would see that his department's decision "means we were bright enough to know we needed help and asked for it and that resolved the matter."

"If people think that's out of my league, well, it's out of my league," he said. "It's always going to be people who never say I did the right thing and those who will say I did do the right thing."

In terms of the scope and media coverage of the serial sniper attacks, this has been the biggest case he has ever handled, the chief said, adding that "all my training, experience, education and exposure to other leaders formed to come together" to help lead him in leading others to solve this case.

As for his sometimes tempestuous relationship with the news media, Chief Moose said he became angry after the leak about the sniper leaving a tarot card at the scene of the Benjamin Tasker Middle School shooting in Bowie. A 13-year-old boy was wounded in that shooting.

He said he was concerned about conveying to the sniper that he did not condone the leak because he was trying to establish a rapport with the gunman.

As for criticism that he kept too much information from the public, specifically parents who worried about sending their children to school, Chief Moose said he had no regrets about how he released information.

The chief said that he would not withhold information that would jeopardize anyone's safety for the sake of an investigation. That is why he made the comment that "public safety comes before an investigation."

He would not say how close investigators were to solving the case before the suspect tipped his hand by bragging to a Hanover, Va., priest about a previous crime in Alabama. Nor would he disclose what evidence or direction the investigation is focusing on now that the suspects are in custody.

However, he said he is confident police arrested the right people. He would not disclose whether they suspect anyone else of being an accomplice in the case.

Chief Moose implied that the cooperation and collaboration among local and federal law-enforcement agencies during the investigative phase was critical in capturing the suspects.

In a written statement, he publicly refused to comment on infighting among federal, state and local prosecutors about who will try the sniper suspects first, but privately said he hopes the lawyers will "remember they are professionals."

Chief Moose refused to disclose his preference about which jurisdiction should prosecute the charges first. He would say only that he will finally "exhale when the cases are all tried."

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