John Leopold trial: Officer says he delivered county executive to sexual encounters
By Annys Shin,
If John Leopold needed something done, Howard Brown was his man. As one of the Anne Arundel police officers assigned to protect the county executive, Cpl. Brown’s marching orders were simple, he testified Tuesday: Keep Leopold happy.
On Tuesdays, that entailed driving the leader of Maryland’s fourth-most-populous county to parking lots for sexual encounters with a female county employee, Brown said at Leopold’s misconduct trial in Annapolis. He would let the county executive out, he said, and then drive to another part of the lot to wait for him to return.
Sometimes Leopold would share details about the trysts in his girlfriend’s car. Once, after a liaison in a bowling alley parking lot, Brown testified, Leopold told him that he had just had “the best [oral sex] he ever had.”
Leopold, 69, is facing four counts of misconduct and one count of fraudulently misappropriating county funds, which carries a sentence of up to five years. If Leopold (R) is convicted, the County Council could remove him from office.
Prosecutors allege that he misused his security detail for personal and political purposes. In addition to ferrying him to sexual encounters, the police officers allegedly delivered newspapers and takeout food to Leopold on weekends, put up campaign posters, delivered campaign checks and drove him as he ripped out an opponent’s signs in a predawn excursion just before the 2010 election. As a result, the protection detail racked up more than $10,000 in overtime at taxpayer expense, prosecutors say.
Brown, who testified under a grant of immunity, told the court that at Leopold’s request, he compiled dossiers on Carl O. Snowden, the former civil rights director for Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler; Joanna Conti, the Democrat who opposed Leopold for reelection in 2010; and Thomas Redmond, a former County Council member.
Under cross-examination by Leopold’s defense attorney, Brown said Leopold did not specifically ask him to use non-public sources, such as databases available only to law enforcement.
Brown testified that he was asked to call county residents because Leopold wanted to know why they had removed his campaign signs from their yards. A 19-year county police veteran, Brown said he complained about his assignments to his superiors, but nothing happened.
“I was told not to worry about it,” Brown said, adding that he did not feel comfortable refusing Leopold’s requests because “of what the retribution might be.”
His comments echoed those of former Leopold scheduler Patricia Medlin, who testified last week that she feared for her job if she did not drain a urine bag attached to Leopold’s catheter two to three times a day for nearly a year.
Brown said he also had to drain Leopold’s catheter bag, a chore he described as “humiliating.”
Another former protection officer, Cpl. Joseph Pazulski, said he was spared catheter duty. But he testified Tuesday that he had wanted to quit the detail because it was “getting too quirky” for him. He said he continued to work weekend shifts because he was afraid Leopold might keep him from getting a different job within the police department. He said he’d had “many conversations” with Leopold, in which the county executive talked about firing or transferring county employees.
“I felt it could very easily happen to me,” Pazulski said.
Brown testified that he, too, was worried about his job security and chose to do something about it.
At first, he said, Leopold “treated me as if I could not do anything right.” Then at the suggestion of a staff member, Brown contributed money to Leopold’s campaign. Afterward, he said, “I wasn’t getting yelled at. He wasn’t as abrasive with me.”
He made a second contribution as well. “If it worked the first time, I wasn’t going to rock the boat,” he said.
During cross-examination of Brown and Pazulski, the defense made clear that none of the protection officers had been trained for the job nor were there written standards for what they could and could not do.
The defense has portrayed Leopold as an idiosyncratic, yet dedicated public official, who, far from being a criminal, “soldiered on,” performing his county executive duties despite excruciating back pain. As the pain grew more severe toward the end of 2009, the defense argued, Leopold needed help with simple tasks, including changing his catheter. His back pain was so bad at one point, he had to lie down in the back seat of his security detail’s vehicle while being driven around.
The case is being heard by Circuit Court Judge Dennis Sweeney. Leopold waived his right to a jury trial last week. The trial is expected to last until early next week.