Two finalists have been selected for police chief in Maryland’s most populous locality as Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich prepares to fill a post open for the first time in 15 years, according to multiple people familiar with the selection process.
The contenders to head the 1,300-member force have not run a police department of that size and do not include the county police veteran who has been the acting chief following the retirement of Chief J. Thomas Manger, according to nine people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing personnel matter.
One finalist, Antonio DeVaul, serves as chief of the police department in Takoma Park, Md., with 40 sworn officers. The other, Tonya Chapman, was chief of the Portsmouth, Va., police department, with 255 sworn officers. Chapman, who is African American, was recently forced to resign in a dispute that she suggested was rooted in racism but that the city manager said was over leadership.
Elected last year, Elrich (D) launched a nationwide search for a chief in February. An initial set of interviews before community leaders was done with a group of job candidates. A panel conducted another interview round this week with only DeVaul and Chapman, according to officials familiar with the session.
Elrich could make his final selection as soon as this month, which would start a confirmation process before the nine-member Montgomery County Council. Elrich and his chief administrative officer, Andrew Kleine, did not respond to messages Thursday seeking comment.
Nancy Navarro (D-District 4), president of the council, and Sidney Katz (D-District 3), its vice president and chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee, declined to comment on the finalists Thursday, saying they had not been told anything official from the county executive’s office.
The appointment of a new police chief will come at a critical moment for policing in Montgomery County. The force has been marred by several negative incidents over the past year, with an officer being charged with assault Tuesday after his forceful arrest of a drug-dealer suspect.
As word of the finalists began spreading among police officers and community leaders this week, so did frustration over the absence from the list of Montgomery’s acting police chief, Marcus Jones, a 34-year veteran of the force who has held command posts in the Silver Spring police district, the narcotics bureau and the major-crimes bureau. Before his current role, Jones served as assistant chief in charge of investigations.
“He rose through the ranks here,” homicide detective Dimitry Ruvin said Thursday. “He knows this police department. He would have been amazing.”
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy, who has been a prosecutor in the county for 37 years, said: “Without question, Marcus Jones should be a finalist for this position. I’m shocked he is not.”
Montgomery County has not chosen a chief from within its force for at least two decades. Manger came from Fairfax County, where he had served as police chief, in 2004. His predecessor, Charles A. Moose, came from Portland, Ore., in 1999.
Jones confirmed Thursday that he is not a finalist.
“I am disappointed,” Jones said. “I feel bad for those in the department who supported me. I feel bad for those in the community who supported me.”
Chapman confirmed she was a finalist on Thursday, but declined to comment further.
DeVaul declined to discuss the job opening Thursday. “I can’t make a comment at this point,” he said.
Elrich has called for a focus on accountability at the police department, as have county council members.
The council this week held a public hearing on efforts to create a 15-member Policing Advisory Commission that would advise the council on best policing practices.
Within the county’s law enforcement community, though, there are growing worries that officers will shy away from basic law enforcement tactics, fearing that doing so will get them into trouble.
“We’re at a critical juncture,” McCarthy said. “The police department considers itself under attack. There’s absolutely no doubt they feel that. And we do not want the police to stop doing their jobs and create a situation where de-policing leaves us less safe as a community.”
Chapman appears to be the front-runner, according to people familiar with the process. She spent 22 years at the Arlington County Police Department in Virginia, rising to the rank of captain, served as the deputy police chief in Richmond and became Portsmouth’s chief in 2016.
Portsmouth announced her abrupt resignation in March. A week later, she released a four-page statement posted by the Virginian-Pilot saying, in part, that she was forced to sign a resignation letter under duress or be fired.
“Unfortunately, I cannot provide additional information on the reason for my sudden departure,” Chapman wrote at the time. “However, based on experiences I have endured over the past few years, I can certainly conjecture and so can you.” She did not offer specifics.
She thanked members of the Portsmouth department for their support and asked that the city provide “a positive letter of recommendation for future employment and to extend my severance package to six months,” she wrote.
A month later, Portsmouth’s city manager, Lydia Pettis Patton, also a black woman, released a brief statement on the matter, listing strides Chapman had made in improving public safety, community relations and the diversification of the police force. But Pettis Patton added, “Her departure is an employment issue based solely on concerns with leadership of the department.”
Chapman was replaced by Portsmouth’s assistant chief, Angela Greene, also a black woman.
“I have not experienced any extreme racism,” Greene said at a news conference. “If there is any issues that I felt — underlying, overt or covert — I would take corrective action. I would not stand for that.”
Pettis Patton and Greene could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Asked about his future, Jones said he would be exploring his options.
He is scheduled to make two major public presentations on behalf of the department in the next few weeks.
At an 11 a.m. news conference Friday, Jones is expected to discuss a controversial encounter officers had in May with four African American men outside a McDonald’s. On July 23, Jones is expected to appear before the council to discuss community-police relations, as well as de-escalation and other police training practices.
At a news conference this week, while discussing the assault charges filed against Officer Kevin Moris, Jones spoke about his department as a whole.
“I have the utmost amount of confidence in our Montgomery County police officers,” he said. “They put their lives on the line every single day and do some phenomenal police work. But sometimes there are some good people who do bad things.”
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.