- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A small-town mayor whose two black Labradors were killed by Prince George’s County authorities during a raid at his home last summer complained Monday of a “paramilitary culture” within the sheriff’s department as he announced a lawsuit.

Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo said he filed a lawsuit Monday in Prince George’s County Circuit Court against the state of Maryland and officials at the county sheriff’s office and police department. Mr. Calvo is seeking unspecified damages and a court order forcing the county to revise how authorities execute warrants, treat animals and detain individuals.

“We had hoped that the sheriff’s office and county police department could exercise internal leadership to acknowledge wrongdoing and make these changes on their own,” Mr. Calvo said in a statement. “But their comments and actions over the last year made clear that they lack the will and credibility to do so.”

Last summer, police raided Mr. Calvo’s home after drug smugglers sent a package containing 32 pounds of marijuana to his residence. Police later cleared Mr. Calvo and his family of any wrongdoing.

Police have said they believe the drug delivery was part of a scheme in which packages were sent to the homes of unsuspecting recipients. The packages would then be picked up by someone else shortly after delivery.

The lawsuit claims that authorities’ failure to knock or announce their entry, the “cold-blooded” killing of the dogs and the “degrading detention” of Mr. Calvo and his mother-in-law, were the “direct and proximate result of a rogue, paramilitary culture” within the sheriff’s department.

The defendants acted “intentionally, with an evil and rancorous and improper motive, with ill will and actual malice,” the lawsuit states.

Such practices are not unique to Mr. Calvo’s case, the lawsuit states, and in fact are standard policies and procedures of the county law enforcement agencies. Mr. Calvo said SWAT teams are frequently used in the county.

In addition, police failed to investigate Mr. Calvo and his family’s background before the July raid, and were unaware that Mr. Calvo served as the town’s mayor, according to the lawsuit.

Mr. Calvo and his family say their constitutional rights were violated and that they suffered physically, psychologically and emotionally. They are asking for a jury trial and a judgment ruling the agencies’ procedures unlawful and an order compelling the agencies to change their policies.

Sgt. Mario Ellis, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it. Sgt. Ellis pointed to an internal review announced last week that said deputies acted appropriately during the incident. The review also found that deputies acted in a “professional and acceptable manner,” and that the search warrant was executed lawfully.

A call seeking comment from the county attorney was not immediately returned.

Gov. Martin O’Malley signed legislation last month requiring law enforcement agencies to issue reports on SWAT team deployments in the state and to report whenever a SWAT team injures or kills an animal.

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