Vonzell R. Ward said last week he will not run a write-in campaign for Calvert County sheriff and endorsed onetime opponent Mike Evans, joining with other Republicans who said incumbent Sheriff John A. "Rodney" Bartlett Jr. has politicized the office.
Ward made the announcement at a news conference attended by several prominent Calvert Republicans who took the opportunity to display party unity and disparage Bartlett (D), who was appointed in May 2001 after Ward resigned amid a state prosecutor investigation.
Ward, a former two-term sheriff, said he "very seriously" had considered the write-in effort, despite his third-place finish in the Republican primary. At one point, Ward said, he had gone to his printer and asked for an order of 36,000 fliers for a campaign.
But after consulting with several friends and Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s gubernatorial campaign, which has endorsed Evans, he decided against the effort because he felt he could not win.
"The rumor out there was that if Vonzell wins, then the state prosecutor will indict him and then we will be stuck with the Democrat," Ward said.
Maryland State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli has said he has no plans to pursue an investigation into whether Ward harassed the ex-girlfriend of a deputy. The investigation was dropped after Ward resigned.
Ward said he endorsed Evans in part because Bartlett has kept track of deputies who support Evans and used the department's investigatory powers to discredit other candidates.
Calvert County Commissioner Linda L. Kelley (R), a Bartlett critic, cited the ongoing investigation into whether Ward gave confidential sheriff's department information to reporters and called the resulting misdemeanor charges a "ruse." Ward denies he gave any protected documents to the press and faces a trial in District Court on Nov. 4, the day before the general election.
Kelley also pointed to an internal sheriff's office investigation that led to administrative charges against Sgt. Richard L. McDowell, also a former Republican candidate for sheriff. And she said Bartlett lied when he told county commissioners that the county's insurance company needed Evans to take a physical to remain a deputy sheriff -- Evans retired from the Maryland State Police in 1995 because of a knee injury.
"The actions by the current sheriff are way beyond the pale," Kelley said.
Bartlett denied Kelley's allegations and accused her of being a "Bartlett basher."
He said the charges against Ward in connection with disclosure of internal documents were approved by State's Attorney Robert B. Riddle (R), and the prosecutor said in an interview the case was handled "just like any other." Bartlett said the internal charges against McDowell were initiated before the sergeant became a sheriff's candidate.
And the sheriff said he ordered Evans, a special deputy sheriff, to take a physical after learning from a newspaper advertisement that the candidate receives a disability pension from the state police. A State Police Retirement System official said in an interview that state law generally bars those who receive disability pensions from jobs as law enforcement officers.
"If you cannot perform your duties as a Maryland state trooper, then how can you perform duties as a deputy sheriff?" Bartlett said.
Evans, who was hired as a special deputy by Ward in 1997, said he wrote the retirement system before taking the job. The pension system did not specifically approve his request, but wrote that he could take the job as long as his duties were substantially different from being a state trooper, Evans said. As a special deputy, Evans provides security at the county courthouse and serves civil process documents; he has arrest powers and carries a gun.
Bartlett also said he never told county commissioners that insurance companies thought Evans was a liability; he said he had the company arrange the physical. Sources in the county department of finance said they provided the sheriff's office with a list of doctors to choose from, but did not arrange the physical, which Evans passed.
Ward's endorsement is the latest in an increasingly heated race for sheriff. Evans also has the backing of local state troopers, former Democratic candidate Bernie Nutwell, Republican Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell and Ehrlich, among others. Bartlett has picked up support from his primary election opponent, Leslie A. Meyers, the AFL-CIO, the county teachers union, and his deputies and correctional officers.