A Greenbelt woman sued three Prince George's County police officers for $1 million yesterday, claiming they violated Maryland's strict law against wiretapping by recording a telephone conversation they had with her.
Patricia Hilbert alleged that during a 1978 county police probe of one of its officers, the three officers named in the suit subverted Maryland law by tape recording the conversation with her at D.C. police headquarters, where they placed the call.
Hilbert was a friend of county police officer Wallis A. Sibila, who was being investigated in connection with a 1978 fire that destroyed Sibila's boat.
Maryland law required the consent of both parties to a telephone conversation before it can be recorded in a noncriminal investigation. The District of Columbia's less restrictive law requires the consent of only one party.
The internal investigation of Sibila was not a criminal investigation, but was conducted administratively to determine whether he had violated any departmental general orders.
"These guys -- acting administratively -- ran down to D.C. because they knew they couldn't do it in Maryland, said Hilbert's attorney, Alan J. Goldstein. "Here are cops, charged with the responsibility of enforcing Maryland's law, and instead of enforcing the rights of the citizens of Maryland to be left alone, they go into another jurisdiction and violate (those rights.)
The officers named in the suit are Capt. Milton Crump, head of the department's internal affairs unit; Sgt. Daniel Olds, and Capt. William Sahaydak.
Crump and Olds could not be reached for comment yesterday. Sahaydak declined to comment on the suit, which was filed in Prince George's Circuit Court.
Hilbert's attorney said the police department was not included in the suit because he believed that once the officers had crossed the District line, they were no longer acting as county law enforcement officials. A county police spokesman declined comment on the suit.
According to the suit, the police investigators were gathering evidence to be used in a county police trial board hearing against officer Sibila in connection with the 1978 fire that destroyed Sibila's boat.
The trial board found that Sibila had wilfully and maliciously" burned his boat in an effort to "defraud an insurance company for $6,000."
Sibila was later cleared by then-Police Chief John W. Rhoads, who overturned the verdict and said the officer deserved the benefit of a doubt.
Hilbert claims in her suit that members of the police internal affairs unit met with her to discuss the boat burning incident during their investigation. Hilbert had once worked in an administrative capacity with the police department.
Later, the suit alleges, the officers went to police headquarters in the District, telephoned Hilbert and again discussed the boat-burning incident with her. Hilbert, the suit says, later learned the conversation was recorded.
Sibila was a detective in the police department's robbery squad at the time of the incident. He now works out of the Hyattsville district police station.