ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY
Council Seeks Answers In Parking Lot Episode
Thursday, February 19, 2009
The Anne Arundel County Council is summoning Police Chief James Teare Sr. to answer questions about how officers handled a report about alleged sexual behavior in the county executive's official car at an Annapolis mall parking lot.
The council's action comes after police released a recording of a 911 phone call last week in which an anonymous caller to the county's emergency center on Jan. 30 reported sexual activity and "naked people" in a car parked at Annapolis Westfield Mall. A county police officer was dispatched and found County Executive John R. Leopold (R) in the back seat of his government-issued car. A recording of police radio traffic reported that the officer called the incident "unfounded."
Teare declined to talk to reporters at the time, and Leopold issued a statement dismissing the matter as "rumors and gossip." He declined to answer questions about the incident.
Council member C. Edward Middlebrooks (R-Severn), who requested the police chief's appearance, said he wants to know what police procedure exists for calls about suspicious activity in mall parking lots and whether that procedure is the same for government officials and regular citizens.
"It's a legitimate question, and I'd like it answered," Middlebrooks, who is a criminal defense lawyer, said yesterday. "Often in calls like that, the officer must talk to any woman or girl involved to make sure there aren't any safety issues."
In Leopold's case, police have said the only person the officer talked to was Leopold, and it was unclear whether anyone else was with him when the officer arrived. No written report was prepared.
Yesterday afternoon, Leopold had Teare call Middlebrooks "to answer any questions the councilman might have," said Leopold's spokesman, Dave Abrams.
According to Middlebrooks, the call mostly focused on whether their conversation should be held in private or public. "I don't think something like this should be done in the back room," Middlebrooks said.
Other council members agreed. "There's been enough question raised at this point that any discussion should be public," said council Vice Chairman Cathleen Marie Vitale (R-Severna Park).
Leopold has often clashed with council members of both parties, with several having complained of a lack of communication. Middlebrooks and three other members of the council's Republican majority are barred by term limits from running again and could be challengers to Leopold in the next primary.
Abrams said yesterday that Leopold will not block the police chief from appearing before the council, which has its next meeting March 2.
Some county leaders have said they worry that the incident could become a distraction as they struggle with a budget crisis; Anne Arundel faces a deficit of more than $100 million in the next fiscal year. "We need to get this matter addressed and behind us," said council member James Benoit (D-Crownsville). "There's weighty matters the county needs to address, and getting this matter resolved is in the interest of everyone."
Leopold's director of community services, Erik Robey, said any inquiry would show that "there's been no coverup. Nothing has been done improperly."
Staff writer Ashley Halsey III contributed to this report.