Prince George's County Sheriff James V. Aluisi, in a stance that puts him at odds with a Maryland attorney general's opinion, maintains a force of more than 100 volunteer deputy sheriffs that includes political supporters, personal friends and relatives.
The opinion challenging the volunteer force was issued six years ago. The 118 volunteer deputies, who have full arrest powers and carry sheriff's deputy badges, until recently were authorized to carry handguns, even though some of them never completed a state-mandated gun training program. Aluisi said he has told the volunteers "no guns."
Aluisi said he uses the volunteer deputies, who receive no pay, during roundups of parents who are behind in child-support payments or when large numbers of deputies are needed to secure an area, such as the time two years ago when a Circuit Court jury was moved to the scene of a crime at Iverson Mall in Hillcrest Heights.
He added that the use of the volunteer deputy force in the last child-support roundup saved the county about $10,000 that otherwise would have been paid as salary, and he defended the force as necessary because budget restrictions keep him from hiring more deputies.
Many of the men are in law-enforcement-related jobs, such as guards, but the force includes doctors, business owners, a prominent real estate developer and a minister, as well as former law enforcement officers. One lives in Britain, one resides in South Carolina, and several live in Virginia.
Aluisi said last week that the volunteer force "is held in abeyance until we get a clarification" from the attorney general's office. "If there's a problem," Aluisi said, "then boom! We'll do away with it."
The volunteer deputy force was declared "null and void" in an October 1979 advice-of-counsel opinion by Assistant Attorney General James G. Klair, who said that Aluisi lacked "the authority to issue such deputy sheriff commissions" and was "not authorized to maintain a reserve deputy force of volunteer deputized citizens."
That opinion was written in response to a request from Aluisi regarding the volunteer deputies. Aluisi said then that he would disband the volunteer force and seek legislation that would give him the authority to commission volunteer deputies. Neither action has occurred.
Whether Aluisi's volunteer deputies are legal is a matter of semantics. Aluisi said his current interpretation of Klair's opinion is that the assistant attorney general was speaking about a "standing reserve force."
"We don't have that," he said. "We have a pool or group that we can pull from if we need them. If you're going to need 30 people, you might have to call 60."
The volunteer deputies take the same sworn oath that the Prince George's County court clerk administers to regular deputies. But Aluisi explained that he "activates" and "deactivates" the volunteers each time they are deployed.
"I say, 'Your powers are activated,' and when it's over, 'Your powers are deactivated,' " said Aluisi, who explained that the "powers" are "whatever is needed to carry out that mission."
Nevertheless, Aluisi said he has scheduled a meeting with the attorney general's office to clear up any confusion.
Klair said his opinion and earlier opinions on the same subject written for two of Aluisi's predecessors, who also maintained the force, speak for themselves. He said that "it would be premature" for him to say anything about Aluisi's interpretation of the six-year-old opinion.
The sheriff's use of the volunteer deputies has led to a lawsuit filed against him by John H. Lloyd, a full-time deputy. In the suit filed March 6 in Prince George's Circuit Court, Lloyd claims that Aluisi transferred him from his more desirable position in the department's warrants section to courtroom security in Hyattsville because Lloyd voiced concerns at a union meeting about full-time deputies working with "nontrained" deputies on the child-support sweeps, according to the lawsuit.
The suit alleges that the transfer was punishment for speaking out about the volunteer deputies and occurred two days after the union meeting.
Aluisi declined to comment about the lawsuit because it is in litigation, but he said said he does not believe in punitive transfers.
He emphasized that volunteer deputies receive "the exact same training as new full-time deputies." But Aluisi has not sent their names to state officials for certification.
Full-time deputies must complete about 20 weeks training at an accepted police academy as well as 17 1/2 hours of in-service training and annual weapons qualification.
Upon completion of that training, those deputies are certified as law enforcement officers by the Maryland Police Training Commission. Carl Bart, the commission's acting assistant executive director for certification, said commission records show that 132 Prince George's County deputies are certified law enforcement officers. Aluisi said he has 134 full-time deputies.
Among the volunteer deputies is Kenneth H. Michael, a county real estate developer who is a frequent contributor to Aluisi's election campaigns. Since 1982, Michael has contributed $1,600 according to state campaign finance records. Michael could not be reached for comment.
Other volunteer deputies, including Dr. Dimitri Zafiropulus, a plastic surgeon in Cheverly, and Joseph Wisnewski, the former ticket manager at the Capital Centre who now lives in New York, have contributed more than $2,000 to Aluisi's campaigns since 1982, according to state records.
Zafiropulus said that he contributes to several campaigns and volunteers his time to help the sheriff. He said, "There's nothing wrong with volunteering." Wisnewski could not be reached for comment.
Sigmund Cohen, who owns the Pegasus I restaurant in Fort Washington, said he was a military police officer when he served in the Army and that he joined the volunteer county force after writing a letter asking Aluisi if he could be of any help. Cohen, who said he attended the same training programs as regular deputies, said he was a friend of a Prince George's police officer who was shot to death several years ago. "After that, I wanted to help," he said. "I have a business in Prince George's County, and I feel very fortunate to be able to do whatever I can. Why not? I don't see anything wrong."
Aluisi's father, Frank J. Aluisi, his cousin and former campaign manager, Phillip Michael Errico, and his uncle, Angelo M. Rinaldi, are volunteer deputies, according to county records.
Aluisi, who was first elected sheriff in 1978, maintained strongly that there is no connection between campaign contributions and the volunteers. "You cannot buy a badge from me," Aluisi said. "If a person wants to give me a political contribution, I'm not going to stop him."