Attorney General Gansler depicted as reckless passenger by Md. troopers who drove him
By John Wagner,
Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler regularly ordered state troopers assigned to drive him to turn on the lights and sirens on the way to routine appointments, directing them to speed, run red lights and bypass traffic jams by using the shoulder, according to written accounts by the Maryland State Police.
When troopers refused to activate the emergency equipment, Gansler, now a Democratic candidate for governor, often flipped the switches himself, according to the police accounts. And on occasion, he became so impatient that he insisted on driving, directing the trooper to the passenger’s seat. Gansler once ran four red lights with sirens blaring, a trooper wrote. Another account said he “brags” about driving the vehicle unaccompanied on weekends with the sirens on.
“This extremely irresponsible behavior is non-stop and occurs on a daily basis,” Lt. Charles Ardolini, commander of the state police executive protection section, wrote in a December 2011 memo that said the problem had existed for five years. “Attorney General Gansler has consistently acted in a way that disregards public safety, our Troopers safety and even the law.”
In a statement issued Saturday afternoon, Gansler said the portrait that emerges from the state police memos and e-mails obtained by The Washington Post under the Maryland Public Information Act is untrue. A spokesman for the attorney general said long-running animosity between Gansler and Ardolini was partly responsible.
“The picture being painted by these documents is not an accurate reflection of reality,” said Gansler, a former Montgomery County state’s attorney who was first elected attorney general in 2006. “I deeply respect the troopers and job they do protecting me and the public. A few of the 18 troopers who have provided me protection felt my backseat driving made them uncomfortable — for that I apologize.”
The troopers’ complaints were summarized by Ardolini in the December 2011 memo to his superior, which led to a meeting between Gansler and the leader of the state police. Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) was briefed, aides said, and authorized the police to take whatever corrective action they deemed necessary, including revoking Gansler’s transportation services.
Bob Wheelock, a spokesman for Gansler, said that the SUV used to transport Gansler is owned by the attorney general’s office and that Gansler is free to drive it whenever he wants. Wheelock also denied that Gansler had ever driven the vehicle with lights and sirens on or that he had turned them on when troopers were driving.
Any suggestions made by Gansler about how the troopers should drive, Wheelock said, were no more than that — suggestions that they were free to ignore. State police report to the governor, not Gansler, a separately elected official, with no direct authority over the troopers assigned to him.
The late 2011 meeting between Gansler and Col. Marcus L. Brown, the superintendent of state police, was arranged by a senior aide to O’Malley, who was concerned about safety issues surrounding Gansler’s travels, an aide to the governor said. (O’Malley has endorsed Gansler’s chief rival in next year’s Democratic primary, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown.)
The meeting with Col. Brown did not result in the revocation of Gansler’s drivers. But Gansler was provided with other troopers, and a policy was issued that makes explicit the services troopers are supposed to perform — and those they are not.
Among the latter: “Any actions that would, if made public, reflect unfavorably on the Maryland Department of State Police or the State of Maryland.”
In his statement, Gansler said that to his knowledge, “all of this had been resolved” after his meeting with Col. Brown. “There is really not much more to say about it,” Gansler said, adding that “after 20 years of working side by side with law enforcement, I have nothing but the utmost of respect for them.”
In the Dec. 16, 2011, memo, Ardolini said he realized how serious the problem had become that March after he saw Gansler’s SUV driving “Code 1” — speeding with lights and sirens — on Interstate 97.
According to the memo, he talked to the trooper assigned to Gansler that day and learned that the reckless behavior “had become an even bigger problem than I thought.”
Ardolini did not respond to a request for comment, and Greg Shipley, a spokesman for the state police, said no troopers would be made available to comment for this article.
Ardolini wrote that he then made troopers in the executive protection section — which also serves the governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and treasurer — sign an order to adhere to the state’s “Emergency Driving” policy.
Troopers assigned to Gansler “were instructed that when asked to put the lights on by the AG, they should tell him about the order (show it to him if necessary) and to tell him to contact Lt. Ardolini if he has any issues with it.”
After the order was issued, Ardolini instructed troopers to provide written accounts of any problems they encountered. A few months later, on Dec. 15, there was another incident, according to a trooper’s written account to Ardolini, which was referred to in Ardolini’s memo.
It was 1:15 p.m., and the trooper was taking Gansler from the attorney general’s office in Baltimore to Annapolis in an unmarked black Chevrolet Tahoe. On the way, they came upon an accident that had brought southbound traffic to a halt.
“As we approached, the Attorney General looked at me and told me to drive on the right side shoulder,” wrote the trooper, whose name was redacted. “He then also instructed me to initiate my lights and sirens to alert the vehicles that we were approaching on the right to bypass the traffic.”
The trooper complied. As he was driving on the shoulder, he noticed two other unmarked cars stuck in the gridlock. They turned out to be those of O’Malley and his troopers, the governor’s office confirmed.
The trooper with Gansler, who wrote that he was driving the attorney general for the fourth time, said his cellphone started ringing but that he was unable to answer it because he was driving. When he later expressed concern that he was going to be disciplined, Gansler appeared untroubled and said, “Oh ok,” the trooper wrote.
“At no time during the drive to this event were we running late, or in any danger which would require driving on the right shoulder,” the trooper wrote. “The Attorney General still insisted that we drive on the right shoulder to bypass stopped traffic, and that was an ‘order.’ ”
The next day, on Dec. 16, a trooper wrote that he was “directed by the Attorney General that he was going to drive himself to the first event and for me to sit in the passenger seat.”
“While riding in the passenger seat,” he wrote, “I observed the Attorney General exceeding the speed limit, using his lights and siren to move people out of the way, hit the shoulder with his lights, and turn his lights and sirens on to go through four red lights.”
The same trooper reported that Gansler had “ordered and asked me on several occasions to run the shoulder while activating my lights and sirens. The Attorney General has also informed me that ‘Troopers do not sit in traffic.’ While driving him he constantly informs me that Troopers drive as fast as possible to events.”
In the documents obtained by The Post, the troopers also cite several things allegedly said by Gansler that they found troubling. Among them: “Stop signs are optional” and “I don’t care how fast we drive. The faster the better.”
Ardolini’s memo said Gansler insisted on driving with lights and sirens to routine events such as “breakfast, meetings and his children’s sporting events.”
Wheelock strongly denied that.
‘No love lost’
Wheelock said it’s common for troopers to drive faster than the speed limit when traveling with elected officials, and he questioned the motives of Ardolini. He said Gansler and Ardolini had been feuding in 2011.
Wheelock said that the problems began when Ardolini assigned some inexperienced troopers to Gansler and that they often got lost while driving him.
“Doug was feeling like he was being given second-tier or too recently trained troopers,” Wheelock said. “They were very inexperienced, and several of them didn’t know the area well. That was a source of irritation to Doug.”
In his memo, Ardolini said he believes that the tension goes back to the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008. Gansler “was upset that the Governor had Troopers there and he did not,” Ardolini wrote.
Ardolini also wrote that when troopers told Gansler that they were not allowed to drive with lights and sirens on in situations that were not emergencies, they got this response: “When I am Governor, the first thing I am doing is getting rid of Ardolini.”
Asked if that were true, Wheelock said, “There is, clearly, no love lost between these two guys.”
Wheelock said that Ardolini’s December 2011 memo appeared to be based on the concerns of no more than two or three “disgruntled drivers,” a small number of the roughly 18 troopers who have been assigned to Gansler during the nearly seven years he has been attorney general.
The names of individual troopers who wrote e-mails or memos expressing concern about Gansler were redacted in the state police’s response to The Post’s public information request, so it is unclear how many did so.
Shipley, the state police spokesman, said memos or e-mails written by at least six members of the state police were provided to The Post in response to the public information act request. Shipley said the executive protection section has no “second-tier” troopers.
Shipley also said that Col. Brown, the state police superintendent, has “full confidence” in Ardolini, a longtime member of the executive protection section, who had “risen through the ranks, through several administrations, to become the commander of the unit.”
The Gansler campaign pointed The Post to two troopers formerly assigned to Gansler who said they hold him in high regard. Both asked to remain anonymous, citing fear of possible retribution from the state police.
One trooper said that Gansler “never once ordered me to do anything and certainly never asked me to do anything that would violate any traffic laws. That is not his style.”
The other, who said he drove Gansler for more than a year, said, “They don’t come any finer then Doug Gansler.”
He said experienced troopers understand that they shouldn’t take orders from the people they are protecting. “At the end of the day, if we’re told to drive on wrong side of the road, and we hit somebody, it’s on us, not them,” he said.
Wheelock said Gansler has been happy with the troopers assigned to him since meeting with Col. Brown two years ago. But Ardolini has continued to track incidents, according to the documents The Post obtained.
A December 2012 e-mail reports, for example, that Gansler told a trooper that he planned to drive himself to a Washington Redskins game and that he planned to use “emergency equipment” because he was running late. In the same memo, Ardolini says a trooper told him that Gansler was upset that the trooper did not run a red light in the rain.
In an August 2012 e-mail to Ardolini, a trooper wrote of arriving one morning to start his shift at Gansler’s home, where the attorney general’s state-assigned SUV had been parked overnight. The trooper said that the vehicle had been moved from where he left it the night before and that he “observed significant damage to the front drivers side bumper and quarter panel.”
“The AG asked if I caused the damage or had knowledge of it,” the trooper wrote. As the conversation continued, Gansler acknowledged having used the vehicle since the trooper had left him the night before, according to the e-mail.
Ardolini’s December 2011 memo says that on “several occasions,” troopers had discovered vehicle damage that they did not cause. He characterized it as “sometimes minor and a few times more severe,” remarking that “we had to tape the front bumper on once.”
Wheelock said that he considers the reports of vehicle damage “a little murky” but that Gansler had not been responsible for damage beyond what would be expected given the many miles he travels as part of his job.
The documents provided to The Post also include references to a few speeding tickets that involved Gansler’s vehicle when troopers said they were not driving it.
An e-mail written by Ardolini in November 2012 said a trooper told him about a speeding ticket Gansler received that remained unpaid. “He threw it away and said he was not paying it,” Ardolini wrote.
Wheelock said Gansler has no recollection of receiving any speeding tickets while driving the state-owned SUV.