Council Members Want an Explanation From Leopold

By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Anne Arundel County Council members urged last night that County Executive John R. Leopold explain what he was doing in his government-issued car at an Annapolis mall when police were led to the vehicle by an anonymous call alleging possible sexual activity.

"I think it's very suspicious. I don't buy it for one minute. I don't think anybody's going to buy that something wasn't happening," said council member C. Edward Middlebrooks (R-Severn) at a public meeting. "Let him clear it up. If we're wrong, let him step out publicly and say [a woman] wasn't there."

The call for Leopold (R), who wasn't at the meeting, to break his silence over the incident came during a council meeting at which the police chief fended off questions about how the police handled the incident.

Chief James Teare Sr. emphasized repeatedly that no coverup had occurred and that Leopold, who appointed Teare, did not appear to have done anything wrong.

After the meeting, Leopold said through a spokesman: "Chief Teare's testimony speaks for itself. Proper police procedure was followed, and an anonymous call was deemed unfounded. There is too much important work to be done in this county to engage any further in this political circus."

The council met with Teare after police, prompted by reporters' questions, released a recording last month of a Jan. 30 phone call in which an anonymous man told the county's emergency center that he saw sexual activity and "naked people" in a car parked at the Westfield Annapolis mall.

Last night, Middlebrooks and other council members peppered Teare with questions.

"Why wasn't the county executive's security detail with him?" asked council member James Benoit (D-Crownsville). "Don't they pick him up and drop him off at his house each day?"

Middlebrooks said: "We have a car parked in a far distance, which makes no sense if you're going to go to Nordstrom. It's a car with dark tinted windows. We know the county exec is in the back seat. Where I come from, that's strange . . . that's weird."

Council member Daryl Jones (D-Severn) remarked on the disruptiveness of the controversy. "Something has to happen to bring this to an end, to have this clarified, so we can get on with the council's business," he said.

At the meeting, Teare said Leopold's car -- identifiable by its "County Executive 1" plates -- was backed into a parking space so that the officer could see through the front windshield. From that position, the officer didn't see anyone else.

Leopold emerged from the car fully dressed, Teare said. The officer told him that he was responding to a suspicious call, and Leopold shook his hand. The officer did not ask Leopold what he was doing in the back seat, whether any sexual activity was going on or whether anyone else had been in the car with him, Teare said.

After the 911 recording was released, Leopold, 66, issued a statement dismissing the matter as "rumors and gossip." He has refused to answer any questions since. Those involved in county and state government are watching the situation carefully. Leopold, a first-term county executive, is the highest-ranking elected Republican in the state, but he won his office in 2006 by a slim margin of about 4,000 votes.

Leopold has often clashed with council members of both parties, and several have complained of a lack of communication. Middlebrooks and three other members of the council's Republican majority are barred by term limits from running for reelection and could challenge Leopold in the next primary.

"This is the guy who campaigned on open and honest, transparent government," Middlebrooks said. "He's put the police department in a bad light, put the county in a bad light. I think he's the only one who can clear this up."

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