- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The National Park Service offered not to press charges against U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers in exchange for a gag order, Chief Chambers’ attorney confirmed yesterday.

The offer was made Dec. 12, six days before the Park Service announced it wanted to fire Chief Chambers. It was first reported on the Web site of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a group that supports her.

A PEER spokesman said the information came from U.S. Senate employees briefed on a meeting between Chief Chambers and Don Murphy, the Park Service’s deputy director.

Chief Chambers’ attorney, Peter Noone, acknowledged that Chief Chambers and Mr. Murphy met. Although he declined to characterize the meeting, Mr. Noone confirmed the information posted on the PEER Web site.

“I can tell you that nothing in that story is inaccurate,” he said.

Elaine Sevy, a Park Service spokeswoman, declined to comment.

According to PEER, Mr. Murphy offered not to press charges of releasing sensitive information, lobbying, insubordination and breaking the chain of command. In return, Chief Chambers was asked not to speak with the media or Congress without prior approval.

Chief Chambers rejected the offer because she was concerned that micromanagement and interference would make her and the police force ineffective, said Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director. Six days later, Park Service officials told her they planned to fire her.

“This means that the charges against her were trumped up to apply political pressure,” Mr. Ruch said. “First they offered not to press them, then they said the charges were so serious that the only solution is termination.”

Details of the meeting were to be confidential, Mr. Ruch said, but the Park Service briefed the staff of Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican. Andrea Hofelich, a spokeswoman in the senator’s office, acknowledged that the staff was briefed on Chief Chambers’ situation, along with the staffs of other congressional offices. But Miss Hofelich said Miss Collins’ staff did not release any information and still was reviewing the issue.

Chief Chambers was suspended and stripped of her police powers on Dec. 5, three days after she told several reporters that she had been forced to cut back on patrols so officers could guard national monuments. She also said her department had a $12 million budget shortfall this year and needed $8 million for the next fiscal year.

After the Park Service announced plans to fire Chief Chambers, she submitted a response, which officials are reviewing, Mr. Noone said. The Park Service can uphold the decision to fire her, rescind it or impose disciplinary action.

Mr. Noone said that if the Park Service upholds her firing, he would appeal to the Merit System Protection Board.

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