Montgomery County prosecutors are questioning whether dozens of criminal convictions could be jeopardized by eight police officers who Police Chief Charles A. Moose recently revealed are still on the force even though they were found to have lied.

Moose has said state law protecting police officers' privacy forbids him to release the eight officers' names, but Deputy Montgomery State's Attorney Katherine Winfree said yesterday that prosecutors are seeking a meeting with Moose to obtain the names.

"As a prosecutor, I'm concerned about what lies a police officer told," Winfree said. "If it's a police officer who makes arrests and testifies against people, it could have a bearing on whether we feel comfortable sponsoring that person as a witness. It's something we need to resolve."

Moose's revelations came during a speech to police academy graduates last week in which he expressed outrage that eight officers found to have lied over the past five years "continue to carry a badge and a gun and drive about the county arresting people, going to court and testifying."

Moose's comments sparked criticism from some police officers who said his blunt remarks unfairly branded the department as a whole, though County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) said he endorsed his new police chief's insistence on truthful officers.

Prosecutors aren't the only ones who say they will be seeking the officers' names to determine what role their credibility may have played in previous court cases. Defense lawyers also are clamoring for the list, saying they had assumed the police department wouldn't employ officers who lied.

Several lawyers, including the county's chief public defender, said yesterday they might want to challenge past convictions based on the officers' testimony or arrests based on the officers' search warrants or traffic stops.

Public Defender Eugene Wolfe, whose office represents the most defendants in the county, said he doubts that Moose, who must maintain the support of his officers and good relations with the police union, will provide the names of the officers voluntarily.

"If there is a person doing a substantial amount of jail time, and if it's based on that officer's credibility, we want to know that," Wolfe said.

A summary of recent internal affairs investigations, provided by the police department, shows that officials have investigated other incidents in the past two years that also could raise questions about some officers' credibility.

From January 1997 through Sept. 20 of this year, the department substantiated five cases in which officers submitted inaccurate or incomplete reports and two cases in which officers violated department rules on handling evidence, according to the summary report. One officer is still being investigated for allegations of perjury, and five out of 61 complaints of excessive force were sustained.

Allegations of lying were sustained in four instances in the past two years, the statistics show.

It is unclear from the information provided by the police how many of the officers against whom the allegations were sustained are still on the force. Prosecutors and defense lawyers say that because they do not know which officers are involved and whether they are still making traffic stops and arrests, it is difficult to assess how many criminal or traffic court cases might be affected.

Police officials said they could not give immediate statistics on how many officers had been fired in the past few years or why. The information about the internal affairs investigations did not say what discipline, in any, was meted out in any of the cases.

The summary was organized by type of allegation and doesn't indicate whether one complaint was lodged against several officers or whether one officer was named in several kinds of complaints. The department did reveal that 32 officers have had two or more complaints in the past two years.

Moose said yesterday that he has faith in the internal affairs unit's integrity but noted that it has been short-staffed and is not computerized, leaving the department unable to track complaints.

He said he expects the number of complaints to rise sharply next year, after the internal affairs unit, instead of commanders at the district station level, determines which complaints deserve formal investigation.

"We'll do more talking about this issue, encouraging people to report," Moose said. "So, when there's a spike [next] year, will I be concerned? No, because that means we are doing more."

The way Montgomery police handle internal affairs allegations--the investigative files are kept secret--has surfaced in complaints from the local NAACP that the department has not taken seriously reports that some officers harass and brutalize minorities. The U.S. Department of Justice also is investigating those allegations.

Moose, who became chief in August, has ordered that, as of Nov. 1, complaints against officers may no longer be handled informally at the station level without being reported to internal affairs. A 240-page report released last month by the County Council's Office of Legislative Oversight found that the current complaint process is archaic and ambiguous to average citizens and police.

Walter Bader, president of the Montgomery Fraternal Order of Police, said that none of the eight officers was found to have lied under oath and that Moose's graduation ceremony comments "set the stage for this to be totally blown out of proportion and taken out of context."

Bader said he believed Moose was "throwing things out without getting the factual basis, and now there's going to be all this inquiry and suspicion that is totally unwarranted."

Montgomery's legal circles are abuzz, however, not because of the relatively few officers who have been found culpable out of the more than 1,000 officers on the force, but because internal affairs files are closed, and no one knows the gravity of the officers' actions or which of those officers are still on the force.

More important, prosecutors and defense lawyers agree, untruthful or untrustworthy police officers can have grave and far-reaching ramifications in the criminal justice system.

Rebecca Nitkin, co-chair of the criminal law section of the Montgomery County Bar Association, said defense lawyers planned to discuss the issue at their monthly meeting last night, including whether they will seek the names through a public records request or through a lawyer subpoenaing the names in a future criminal case.

Defense lawyers might want to cross-examine a police officer about his internal affairs record to argue to a judge or jury that the officer's testimony can't be trusted, Nitkin said. Officers also obtain search warrants based solely on their sworn testimony, and many verdicts come down to a defendant's word against a police officer's, Nitkin said.

"It's a very big deal," Nitkin said. "It's destroying the morale of the police officers who are trying to do the right thing. It's hurting the state's attorney's office if they don't want to win cases on perjured testimony. Obviously, it hurts defendants most. They can lose due to perjured testimony."

"The worst part," said defense attorney Patricia Harvey, "is that the department knew these officers lied about something in the performance of their jobs and left them in their jobs."

Tom Heeney, a Rockville lawyer who gets client referrals from the NAACP, said Moose's revelation shows the need to make the internal affairs system more open and accountable.

"Our system of justice virtually depends on truth-telling from the witness stand," Heeney said. "Without it, the system could implode."

Staff writer Craig Whitlock contributed to this report.

Results of Internal Affairs Investigations

Conducted January 1997 -- Sept. 20, 1999

Complaints likely to originate within police department

Officers investigated

Untruthful Statements 6

Unsatisfactory performance 25

Compliance with orders 8

Secondary employment 10

Conduct umbecoming 26

Punctuality 9

Integrity of reporting system 7

Conformance to law/evidence 2

Conformance to law/perjury 1

Allegations sustained

Untruthful Statements 4

Unsatisfactory performance 14

Compliance with orders 7

Secondary employment 3

Conduct umbecoming 10

Punctuality 7

Integrity of reporting system 5

Conformance to law/evidence 2

Conformance to law/perjury --

Allegations not sustained

Untruthful Statements 1

Unsatisfactory performance 0

Compliance with orders 1

Secondary employment --

Conduct umbecoming 2

Punctuality --

Integrity of reporting system 1

Conformance to law/evidence --

Conformance to law/perjury --

Unfounded (did not happen)

Untruthful Statements --

Unsatisfactory performance 2

Compliance with orders --

Secondary employment 1

Conduct umbecoming 3

Punctuality 1

Integrity of reporting system --

Conformance to law/evidence --

Conformance to law/perjury --

Exonerated

Untruthful Statements --

Unsatisfactory performance 1

Compliance with orders --

Secondary employment --

Conduct umbecoming 1

Punctuality --

Integrity of reporting system --

Conformance to law/evidence --

Conformance to law/perjury --

Administrative closure

Untruthful Statements 1

Unsatisfactory performance 3

Compliance with orders --

Secondary employment 1

Conduct umbecoming 4

Punctuality --

Integrity of reporting system --

Conformance to law/evidence --

Conformance to law/perjury --

Policy failure

Untruthful Statements --

Unsatisfactory performance --

Compliance with orders --

Secondary employment 1

Conduct umbecoming --

Punctuality --

Integrity of reporting system --

Conformance to law/evidence --

Conformance to law/perjury --

Incomplete

Untruthful Statements --

Unsatisfactory performance 1

Compliance with orders --

Secondary employment 4

Conduct umbecoming 6

Punctuality 1

Integrity of reporting system 1

Conformance to law/evidence --

Conformance to law/perjury 1

Complaints likely to originate with citizens

Officers investigated

Discrimination/harassment/use of derogatory language 22

Use of Force 61

Abuse of Authority 21

Conformance to law/Assault 18

Allegations sustained

Discrimination/harassment/use of derogatory language 1

Use of Force 5

Abuse of Authority 3

Conformance to law/Assault 1

Allegations not sustained

Discrimination/harassment/use of derogatory language 4

Use of Force 17

Abuse of Authority 4

Conformance to law/Assault

Unfounded (did not happen)

Discrimination/harassment/use of derogatory language 4

Use of Force 11

Abuse of Authority 2

Conformance to law/Assault 9

Exonerated

Discrimination/harassment/use of derogatory language --

Use of Force 10

Abuse of Authority 5

Conformance to law/Assault --

Administrative closure

Discrimination/harassment/use of derogatory language 9

Use of Force 6

Abuse of Authority 4

Conformance to law/Assault 1

Policy failure

Discrimination/harassment/use of derogatory language --

Use of Force --

Abuse of Authority --

Conformance to law/Assault --

Incomplete

Discrimination/harassment/use of derogatory language 4

Use of Force 12

Abuse of Authority 3

Conformance to law/Assault 1

Sustained: Sufficient evidence to prove the allegation of misconduct

Not sustained: Insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegation

Unfounded: The incident did not occur

Exonerated: The incident occurred, the actions were justified, lawful, proper.

Administrative closure: No investigation occurred for various reasons

Policy Failure: Incident occurred; however, there are omissions in policy or established policy was insufficient or ineffective

SOURCE: Montgomery County Police Department