Anne Arundel County's police chief could face arrest if he is unable to resolve a showdown with the County Council over his refusal to testify as part of an inquiry into corruption charges against County Executive John R. Leopold, a county lawyer said Thursday.
Police Chief Col. James E. Teare Sr.'s attorney had informed the council earlier in the day that he would not comply with a subpoena because it could result in the disclosure of information relevant to Leopold's criminal indictment. Council members say they're holding out hope that Teare will ultimately comply, but they will continue to apply pressure.
Council Chairman Derek Fink, a Pasadena Republican, said the council would consider asking a judge to sign off on Teare's arrest if he does not comply.
"At the end of the day, the council's absolutely committed to bringing the chief in to talk to the council," said Fink. "If that's the step necessary to bring closure to this subpoena, all options are on the table."
Teare's attorney had argued in a letter to the council's staff that he should not have to discuss the charges against Leopold amid an investigation by the Maryland state prosecutor's office.
"I have advised Chief Teare that as a law enforcement officer it is not advisable for him to offer public testimony about these matters when a public criminal trial of the issues which are the subject of your subpoena will soon be held," Teare's lawyer, Gerald P. Martin, wrote in the letter.
The indictment against Leopold, issued this month, included accusations that he directed his taxpayer-funded security detail to take him to sexual encounters with a county worker and gather information about his political opponents. Leopold was charged with four counts of misconduct in office and one count of misappropriation of county funds. He has consistently declined to discuss the indictment but has vowed to fight the charges.
The indictment says Teare was aware of the alleged activity but took "no effective action." He has not been charged. Following the indictment, the department has acknowledged that officers may have improperly accessed a criminal information database to compile dossiers.
In his letter, Martin questioned the council's authority to call his client in what he considered a criminal matter. He also said the subpoena was "invalid" because the decision to issue it was "apparently made behind closed doors" in violation of public meeting rules.
Deputy County Attorney David A. Plymyer later agreed that the document needed to be re-issued.
In response, Fink called a hastily planned afternoon meeting to reissue the subpoena. He ultimately rescheduled the vote for Monday, citing concerns that the council hadn't given proper public notice.
Reached at his Baltimore office Thursday, Martin said he would not comment beyond the letter. A Police Department spokesman said Teare was out of the office Thursday and could not be reached for comment.
Plymyer said if Teare does not comply with a second subpoena, the council would be able to seek court intervention. A judge would have several options, he said, including issuing a "body attachment" that would allow the sheriff to arrest Teare.
"If we're going to ask the court to issue a body attachment for a chief of police, we have to dot all our I's and cross all our T's," said Plymyer.
Councilman Jamie Benoit, who is an attorney, called the legal arguments made in Martin's letter "ridiculous" and "preposterous."
"It's just a stall tactic," said Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat. "We will get Chief Teare here for nothing else to sit here and take the Fifth [Amendment, which provides protections against self-incrimination]. He'll be here, I'm certain of it."
Councilman Jerry Walker, a Gambrills Republican, said he believes the council handled the original subpoena properly.
"There was never a secret meeting," said Walker. "I'm not surprised that Chief Teare chose to ignore our subpoena. It's unfortunate that transparency and accountability have been exchanged for closed lips and refusal of information."
Deborah Jeon, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which has urged the council to investigate the alleged compilation of dossiers on political opponents and the accessing of the database, called Teare's response "inexcusable" in a statement.
"It should not take a subpoena for the chief of police to tell the County Council … and the voters themselves what he knows about what happened," said Jeon. "If he cannot do this, he simply cannot perform the most basic function of his job, which is to enforce the law. And if he is afraid of his own personal culpability in this regard, then he has no business being the chief of police."
In his letter, Martin also referred to a request Teare made Monday to the Maryland State Police, asking for help investigating the legality of information allegedly gathered by officers for use in the dossiers.
The state police said it would not investigate and referred Teare's request to the Maryland state prosecutor, who is prosecuting Leopold.
"They have declined because they do not wish to potentially interfere with the state prosecutor," Martin wrote. "It would seem prudent for the County Council to do the same."