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Prince George's Police Clear Mayor, Family

By Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 9, 2008; B01

Police said yesterday they have cleared Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo and his family of any wrongdoing in connection with a package of marijuana that police intercepted en route to his home, leading to a violent raid in which deputy sheriffs killed the family's two dogs.

Prince George's County Police Chief Melvin C. High delivered the news in a telephone call Thursday to Calvo, saying police and State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey determined that Calvo and his family were innocent victims caught up in a drug-smuggling ring.

High exonerated the mayor and his family and expressed regret that they were victimized by drug dealers and that their dogs had been killed. High stopped short of apologizing for any action by law enforcement, police and Calvo said.

Sheriff Michael Jackson said yesterday in his first extensive interview since the incident that he was extremely upset that the Calvos had called for and been granted a civil rights review by the FBI.

He asked the public for patience while his staff conducts its own internal review, which could be done as early as Monday.

The shipment of 32 pounds of marijuana, addressed to Calvo's wife, Trinity Tomsic, was one of several sent to unsuspecting recipients in the Maryland suburbs in the past week. Police said Wednesday that they arrested a deliveryman and another man who they think conspired to collect the more than 400 pounds of marijuana that had been sent from Arizona. Police have declined to release the suspects' names.

"The chief called and told me that me and my family had been absolutely and completely cleared of any charges," Calvo said. "He also said that he did not apologize for any action or wrongdoing by the police department, although he did express regret about what has happened."

High also issued a statement yesterday saying the department had begun a review of the narcotics investigation that led to the raid on Calvo's home. The sheriff's department said Thursday that it also had begun a review that is standard any time a deputy fires a weapon.

Calvo and county civil rights leaders have characterized the July 29 incursion as an unwarranted and overbearing raid that may be emblematic of a pattern of abuse by county law enforcement agencies serving search warrants.

At the request of the Calvos, the FBI said Thursday that its civil rights division would review the raid. Legal experts said the review could put the practices of the Prince George's sheriff's department and county police under scrutiny.

High said this week that county narcotics officers, who were tracking the shipment and who had obtained a search warrant, did not know the home belonged to the mayor and his wife. The sheriff's department, which provided its SWAT team for the raid, also apparently had not attempted to use nonlethal force, such as fire extinguishers or pepper spray, to subdue Calvo's two black Labrador retrievers.

Calvo and other local elected leaders have said those two apparent failings may signal a dangerously thin level of investigation and planning by the county's law enforcement agencies. Calvo's lawyer also maintains that the county did not have the proper "no-knock" warrant needed to enter the home without warning. The state legislature provided for such warrants in 2005, and county police initially said they had a no-knock warrant. The department has since said it did not have such a warrant and does not believe they exist.

In yesterday's interview, Jackson said that although he has yet to see evidence of wrongdoing, he would not hesitate to act if he finds his deputies overstepped their bounds.

"We hold everyone to the highest standards," Jackson said. "I will not put up with disrespecting this community and using this badge for more than what it is. This badge is a ray of hope and a beacon of light."

Jackson also expressed dismay at the civil rights review. "I've been here 19 years, and this agency has been in existence since 1696. The Office of the Sheriff of Prince George's County has never been under a civil rights review or no one has ever called for the Department of Justice to come in," he said. "There is no reason, there has been no reason, and as long as I'm here there will not be a reason for it."

The sheriff offered new details about the raid, saying that his deputies were briefed on the layout of the home and that they knew there were dogs inside.

The SWAT team had planned to gather at the front door and demand entry to the home and would have forcefully entered only if those inside the home refused entry, he said.

Jackson reiterated his explanation that it was a scream by Calvo's mother-in-law, Georgia Porter, who saw officers running toward the house, that changed the calculation of officers conducting the raid.

"At that point, they see you, you don't see them, and you don't know where they are. . . . That's dangerous," Jackson said. "You really don't have time to deal with that dog, you really don't have time to deal with that person. You have to secure and go.

"It is unfortunate that those dogs were killed," he said. "That would be the case whether it was the mayor's house or anyone else's house. A loss of life is always unfortunate. That is not our goal."

Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

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