BY KEN ROSSIGNOL
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
Southern Maryland campaigns for Sheriff have always been full of turmoil, accusations, lies, distortions, and false charges as those who would be elected to the top post of law officer vie for votes. The bad boys, the choir boys, the repentant, and the soon-to-be-found out all mix it up for the honor of the top job, the power, and the patronage to become the holder of the position of Sheriff.
In 2014, incumbent Sheriff Rex Coffey was spotted on video using his police cruiser to carry campaign signs he erected while in uniform. Doing so was perfectly legal but was not good optics. Another video released before the election showed Charles County Sheriff Captain Wide Load Rackey planting his ample rear end on the hood of a patrol car to block the video camera view of what may have been a beating administered on the shoulder of Rt. 301.
At a candidate forum in Leonardtown in 1994, a supporter of Republican candidate Dick Voorhaar wore a tee shirt declaring, falsely, that she had been raped by Don Purdy, the Democratic candidate for Sheriff.
In 1998, Sheriff Voorhaar, Richard Fritz, and a posse of deputies spread out across the county and cleaned out newsstands of all available copies of the Election Day edition of ST. MARY’S TODAY to prevent voters from reading about the accurate criminal conviction of Fritz, a report of Voorhaar assigning a female deputy to work under her harasser. The result was that taxpayers picked up the tab for millions of dollars to pay for the litigation and another half-million to settle the case in 2005. Even now, in 2022, Fritz still deliberately lies about the legality of the actions of him and the deputies despite a published opinion in Rossignol v Voorhaar 2003 United States Court of Appeals. Fritz and his codefendants attempted to convince the Supreme Court to overturn the landmark decision, and the Supremes refused to hear the case.
The men and women who decide to embrace the law enforcement profession have to pass strict guidelines to be hired, at least that is the case at many agencies. Calvert and St. Mary’s play fast and loose with the rules. A deputy sheriff in Calvert County was hired despite having racked up two driving while intoxicated arrests. This year, he drove his police cruiser with a snoot full of booze and hit another vehicle head-on near Prince Frederick. He was convicted last month and, in a few days, will be sentenced to jail.
Another deputy in Calvert County was driving drunk on the same road and hit and killed a pedestrian. There were no less than 36 Calvert Sheriff deputies at or near the scene, along with the Sheriff, the Assistant Sheriff, two troopers, and even the States Attorney, and not one of the ranking officers or States Attorney Andrew Rappaport took a single step up the front of the courthouse to see one of three available judges to get a search warrant for the blood draw of the intoxicated deputy. As a result, when the case went to court, the blood alcohol evidence was not admissible, and the killer DUI deputy was fined a mere $600 and was only convicted of minor traffic charges. That killer will not serve one day in jail.
Assistant Sheriff Dave McDowell is a candidate for the GOP nomination for Calvert Sheriff in the primary election on July 19, and voters may punish him for the lackadaisical shirking of his duty. Another candidate in that race, Capitol Police Chief Mike Wilson, is a participant in the illegal Garage Poker Series in Waldorf, which Maryland State Police Lt. George White has been operating from his office in the State Capitol.
St. Mary’s Sheriff Captain Steve Hall is the anointed successor of Sheriff Tim Cameron. Cameron has been dissatisfied and disappointed with a couple of others he groomed to take over the job from him.
When Steve Hall was in charge of the special operations unit, one of his underlings fired automatic weapons into the Wildwood neighborhood in 2014. Cameron said he was “mortified” and promised a complete investigation as he suspended Captain Hall. Cameron never released the investigation and, even now, refused to provide the publicly funded investigation to the public for fear the information would hurt Captain Hall’s election chances.
Cameron released a statement after the shooting incident in the Dahlia Park section of Wildewood, in which live rounds came within several feet of a child in the bedroom of a residence, saying he was “mortified” and promised to take action. Cameron never stated what the action he took involved, if he took any “action.”
“I am mortified that there is even potential for one of our training rounds causing damage or injury. We have suspended use of all private property for firearms training and will evaluate all training sites for the safety of users and surrounding residents.” – Sheriff Tim Cameron
“As we take steps to determine if rounds that penetrated homes in the Dahlia Park community came from Sheriff’s Office weapons, I want to assure the public that I am committed to continuing to work with the victim families to keep them informed and aid in their recovery from the shattered sense of safety and security in their home. I am mortified that there is even potential for one of our training rounds causing damage or injury. We have suspended use of all private property for firearms training and will evaluate all training sites for the safety of users and surrounding residents. Finally, we will continue to investigate and determine the origin of the rounds that caused the damage and provide that information to the public,” said Sheriff Cameron.
While it is comforting that Sheriff Cameron promised that future sites for firearms training would be “evaluated” for safety, it is hard to believe that the farm next to Wildewood would have ever been considered “safe” for automatic weapons discharge.
With a big disparity between the treatment of female and male deputies, protection for the old boy commanders and inept decisions by those commanders, the departure of younger deputies continues to hemorrhage the Sheriff’s Department ranks. Every year since Cameron came into office in 2006, a constant refrain of needing higher pay to compete with other agencies appears in the budget hearing process. Cameron’s use of a “Citizen’s Academy” to act as a political arm of his agency continues to provide a chorus of “citizen” voices to bring pressure on the St. Mary’s Commissioners to approve higher annual budgets, without accountability.
Hall picked up a fellow deputy as an opponent when Sgt. Todd Fleenor quit instead of being fired, retired, and filed as a primary election opponent for Captain Steve Hall.
Steve Hall pledged to be transparent about the police career records of his opponents, Fleenor and St. Mary’s Commissioner John O’Connor but held back on his own record.
O’Connor’s demons that caused some erratic behavior and an event with alcohol after returning from service in which he was awarded the Purple Heart caused him to lose a job with the Prince Georges County Police. O’Connor did nothing to hide or conceal the event and wrote about it to draw awareness to veterans’ troubles as they resumed civilian lives after serving in the war.
O’Connor’s frank discussion of his mistakes won over the hearts and votes of the citizens of St. Mary’s County, allowing him to win the post of County Commissioner twice, both times by large margins.
According to the praise from many citizens, Steve Hall is a compassionate man and devoted to service in the community.
Off-the-record talk by other cops tells the tale of Hall and another deputy getting into a fight at the FOP Lodge over a woman. That wouldn’t be the first time for the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Department as a fight over the wife of a deputy took place at an annual Christmas Party at the Seafarers’ School. Two other deputies had a blast of fisticuffs one year at Tiki Bar.
The personnel record for Captain Hall shows he was penalized for a fight in Calvert County. It may be that Captain Hall, who is not a veteran and did not serve in a war zone, has anger issues that date back to 1991.
Hall went to college in Colorado at Western State College in Gunnison, where he reports in his resume he received a degree in Sociology and Law Enforcement. What Hall left out about his stay in Colorado was that he learned more about law enforcement from inside a jail cell when he was convicted of the charge of assault on November 26, 1991. He was sentenced to six days in the Gunnison County Detention Center, according to the records of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
Whatever hiring practices and criminal investigation for the background, which may or may not has been deployed by the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Department on October 17, 1994, when Steve Hall was hired, should have revealed that criminal conviction in Colorado. Since Hall started as a correctional officer in the St. Mary’s County Jail, perhaps it was known that he had served time in jail, and it was concluded that experience would benefit him in his new job.
Steve Hall didn’t post the information about his criminal conviction on his campaign website, along with the glowing endorsements from citizens and former county commissioner Tom Jarboe. Still, nothing is stopping him from posting it now under the post of KNOW YOUR SHERIFF.