Last fall, marching bands played and 20,000 people cheered as a motorcycle escort guided Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose on the back of a vintage convertible through Silver Spring's Thanksgiving parade. His role as the public face of the sniper investigation had turned him into a bona fide celebrity.
Just three months later, the spotlight is still intense. But it's not all accolades anymore.
The last two days vividly illustrate the best-of-times, worst-of-times quality of Moose's life now. He received a standing ovation Monday morning from 1,000 members of the National Association of Counties for helping arrest the two men alleged to have killed 10 people and wounded three others in the Washington region. On Monday night, he sat, by his own request, for a two-hour grilling by Montgomery County's Ethics Commission about his plans to write an insider's account of the sniper case.
Then yesterday, during his monthly interview show on talk radio, some callers hailed his role in ending the area's three-week ordeal. Others peppered him with tough questions about his book deal and about his abortive attempt to land the chief's job in neighboring Prince George's County.
"All the attention you've gotten since the sniper investigation is kind of a double-edge sword," WTOP host Bruce Alan said as Moose sat in the studio. "It makes possible something like this book deal, and yet it brings scrutiny on every aspect of your life as well."
The soft-spoken chief seemed comfortable with that assessment, telling Alan, "You take the good with the bad." But what became increasingly clear yesterday is that Moose never anticipated how the sniper case would change his life.
When requests to get involved in book projects and movie ventures started to pile up, he said, he thought his staff was playing a practical joke. And when he announced in January that he had signed a publishing contract (reporters for The Washington Post also have a contract to publish a book about the snipers) and sold the rights to his life story to a Hollywood producer, he clearly did not know he would be wandering into an ethical thicket.
"This was such a unique situation that everything the chief was doing was plowing new ground," said Bruce Romer, Montgomery County's chief administrative officer and Moose's immediate boss. "No one knew what to expect."
Moose is struggling to communicate in his new hybrid role of celebrity and law enforcer. The gruff, clipped phrases and vague explanations that were a central feature of his daily appearances before banks of cameras back in October have a different impact now. His account of his appearance before the Ethics Commission, which he called "positive" and "upbeat," did not jibe with descriptions from county officials, nor from a gaggle of reporters outside the closed meeting, who could clearly hear raised voices and heated discussion.
And on yesterday's radio broadcast, Alan seemed wholly unsatisfied by Moose's explanation of why he visited with Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) and had reportedly expressed interest in accepting the county's top police job. "I talk to a lot of people about a lot of things," is how Moose put it.
Moose held the meeting without ever advising his chief patron in Montgomery, the man who hired him, County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D). While reports circulated that the episode strained relations between the two, Duncan said he would not let that happen.
He said he believes Moose's popularity remains high despite the intrigue over the chief's private business ventures, which included not just the book and movie but also a consulting firm launched by Moose and his wife to handle requests for the chief to make motivational speeches and share policing techniques.
"Does this detract from his success with the sniper case? Absolutely not," Duncan said. "You should have seen the ovation he got from 1,000 county officials yesterday. It was incredible."
Duncan said his only concern about Moose is that an unfavorable Ethics Commission ruling "could force him out of Montgomery County."
So far, the news from the commission has been positive for Moose. In reviewing his application to teach at Montgomery College -- an application he had forgotten to submit to the commission when he started teaching three years ago -- the members ruled in his favor.
Permission to write the book remains uncertain, though. The commissioners, who deliberated over the matter until late Monday, announced yesterday that they will reconvene March 13 to discuss it.
In the meantime, Moose said, he will work on the project and hope that the notoriety will not distract him from the job he considers his top priority, chief of police.
"I just hope that it's all kept in the proper context and doesn't get overblown," he said.