A Maryland State Police lieutenant is suing his bosses, alleging that they are making him a scapegoat for the state's difficulties in preventing the sale of guns to people accused of domestic violence.

Lt. David Barcroft, a 23-year state police veteran and the former assistant commander of communications services, was ordered last month to leave his job in Baltimore County and report to a new position on the Eastern Shore--a three-hour commute from his home.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Baltimore County Circuit Court, Barcroft asked a judge to block the transfer, calling the job a "made-up" position that punishes him for his part in a gun-control controversy last fall that embarrassed the state police.

"Our concern is that this is strictly a punitive measure because the department was put in a bad light," said Millard McKay, president of the Maryland Troopers Association, which is supporting Barcroft in the case. "The appearance is that he's the fall guy."

In October, The Washington Post disclosed that thousands of people who are barred from owning guns because they are under domestic-violence restraining orders in Maryland were still able to buy firearms because their names were not listed in law enforcement computer systems used for background checks.

Barcroft was responsible for handling $132,000 in federal and state grants that the state police received in 1997 and 1998 to make sure that domestic-violence restraining orders were correctly entered into computer databases. But grant records show that as of last November, state police had spent only one-quarter of the money and missed numerous deadlines to finish the projects.

On Wednesday, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert E. Cadigan agreed to delay Barcroft's transfer for the time being and ordered state police to justify the job switch by Jan. 24.

Maj. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said yesterday that Barcroft was not being punished and that Barcroft was among 50 people who were transferred to new jobs. "This was not a disciplinary transfer," Shipley said. "There was a need for a person to assist with some projects in the eastern region."

In his lawsuit, Barcroft said he was "interrogated" for two hours by another state police lieutenant who was assigned to conduct an internal investigation after The Post disclosed that people accused of domestic violence could still buy guns and that state police had known about the problem for years but had moved slowly to correct it.

Barcroft's attorney, Joe Freeman Shankle, said his client wasn't given a hearing or a proper chance to defend himself under state laws governing disciplinary measures for police officers.

"I think the Maryland State Police was embarrassed, and this is a punitive measure," Shankle said. "If this problem happened under his watch, they should investigate him, charge him and have a hearing, as they're required to do by law."