The phone call that Police Chief Joseph S. Johnson placed yesterday morning to an Annapolis alderman was brief, maybe a minute long. On that point, both men agree.
But whatever was said during that minute -- and whether, as Alderman George O. Kelley Sr. (R-Ward 4) later claimed, the chief issued a coarsely worded threat -- by day's end, the alderman had applied to have criminal charges filed against Johnson, the city's chief of 11 years.
Kelley, a former police officer who was elected to the City Council in 2001, called yesterday for the chief's resignation during a news conference on the steps of City Hall. Kelley said Johnson had called his home several hours earlier, angrily accusing him of "saying something about him," the specifics of which Kelley said were unclear.
Kelley said Johnson then issued a warning: "You know I can be a very treacherous [expletive]."
Kelley, 48, said he had "no idea" what prompted the call. He said the chief should resign, and he announced his intention to seek criminal charges. "I was threatened," Kelley said. "I feel victimized."
Later, Johnson countered: "It just didn't happen. There's just not a shred of truth to it."
Yes, he said, he did call Kelley but only to ask whether Kelley needed more information for a coming meeting about police department staffing -- a topic over which the two have clashed.
"George got hot," Johnson said. "He said, '[Expletive], I'm getting tired of you fronting for the mayor,' and then the phone went click, and the next thing I know he was down at City Hall calling a press conference."
Mayor Ellen O. Moyer (D) said later in the day that she hadn't spoken with either man but that, for the moment at least, she was standing by the chief. "I know so little about what transpired. . . . It would be difficult for me to visualize," she said. But "we're not going to mess up the whole system in the city because of an allegation of words between two men, in private."
Besides, she said, the police department received national accreditation for the first time last year, and the city's crime rate is at its lowest point in a decade.
Moyer's budget proposal, which is scheduled for a council vote in June, would fund 126 sworn officers, a number that has not changed in recent years. The actual number of officers, however, has increased as recruitment and retention efforts have resulted in fewer vacancies.
Kelley, who was elected as a Democrat but switched parties in February, said yesterday that he believes at least 15 more officers are needed. In January, he asked the council's Public Safety Committee to examine whether the staffing level is adequate. He cited a mugging that had recently left a teenager bloodied and said, "Let's not wait for another tragedy before we act."
Johnson said the department had all the officers it needed -- a position that left Kelley incredulous.
Late yesterday, Kelley exercised his right as a citizen to ask the District Court to have Johnson criminally charged. The application was referred to the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office, which reviews complaints that allege police misconduct.
"I think if George went to the [District Court] commissioner's office, he would have to lie," Johnson said earlier in the day, when told of Kelley's intentions. "If he does that, I'm going to do my best to sue him, and he knows that. George knows me well.
"I supervised George for 13 years, and he's never had a lot of love for me," Johnson said, adding later, "George ain't a bad guy, but he just has a habit of not telling the truth."
Kelley stood by his account. "He never mentioned anything about a meeting. That's a lie," he said.