WHERE IS THE COP COACH? ST. MARY’S SHERIFF MOBILE COMMAND CENTER PALOOZA! St. Mary’s Sheriff Tim Cameron bought a pricey Mobile Command Unit in 2020 – but where is it? Now Cameron wants another cool $1.5 million for a newer one and still has the old one hanging around.
IT’S ALL ABOUT YOUR MONEY
BY KEN ROSSIGNOL
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
LEONARDTOWN, MD – When Sheriff Dave Zylak bought a shiny new mobile command unit during his term as St. Mary’s Sheriff between 2002 and 2006, he purchased one that wasn’t very mobile. Zylak’s choice of a command unit trailer needed a truck to pull it. The Command Unit’s transportation to an emergency in the middle of the night for a situation of mayhem, murder, and disaster needs a deputy or other person that has a commercial driver’s license, according to the policy issued by Sheriff Cameron in 2009.
In 2019, Sheriff Tim Cameron requested funds for a new Mobile Command center, which wasn’t approved.
A request to St. Mary’s County Government under the provisions of the Maryland Public Information Act from THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY asked for all of the bids, if any, received by St. Mary’s County for a new St. Mary’s Sheriff Mobile Command Center and the contract to purchase which was signed by the Sheriff’s Department for the purchase of such a vehicle. The St. Mary’s County Administrator has acknowledged receiving the request. When those documents are received, they will be shared with the readers of THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY.
St. Mary’s Sheriff Tim Cameron reportedly used $288,000 of asset forfeiture funds, apparently kept in a slush fund, to buy shiny toys and sparkling objects, which the St. Mary’s Board of Commissioners refuses to fund to buy a Freightliner MT-55 Mobile Command Center.
The firm that sold the unit to the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Department, which the county commissioners own, as are all vehicles, is described by the seller as a forward control chassis powered by a Cummins 260 HP engine and an Allison 2200 EVS automatic transmission with park pawl and PTO provision.
According to the description of the Command Center and the photos included with this story, it has a pass-thru fabricated without glass, allowing those in the cab area to see into the work area of the vehicle. Inside, there is room for three workstations in a laminate desk area.
WHERE IS THE NEW MOBILE COMMAND UNIT?
More of the description of the vehicle appears below, as this is the best that can be done today, as a search of the St. Mary’s storage vehicle yard at the Governmental Center and the public works vehicle storage didn’t reveal the Mobile Command Center that is identified in these photos.
Maybe Sheriff Cameron allowed Interim Assistant Sheriff David Yingling to take it on his recent vacation to the Outer Banks.
The Command Center has custom-fabricated cabinets with dry erase surfaces sitting above the work area. Two radios have been added underneath the cabinets along with duplex receptacles with dual USB charging ports and GFCI duplex receptacles.
A printer sits on a custom slide-out tray for easy maintenance. Flip-down bench seating has been fabricated for additional seating space when needed. For night operations, the daylights can be changed to red night lights by flipping the switches by the curbside entry door. Blackout curtains have been added to the windows for added privacy and shade from the sun when needed. To secure items on the interior shelves, mesh cargo netting with 1/4 turn fasteners has been added.
On the exterior, multiple roll-up storage compartments have been added to the vehicle’s body. These compartments include aluminum box pan shelves and aluminum dividers to separate stored items, giving St. Mary’s flexibility in how they keep their equipment. A slide-out tray has been integrated into the rear curbside compartment to store the Day Box.
A removable magnetic porcelain marker board can be affixed to the curbside exterior of the vehicle when staff needs to work outside. Dual rear entry doors provide another access point into the vehicle, while a 15″ wide roof access ladder offers easy access to the roof. An automatic awning with wind sensors was installed on the curbside, providing coverage to those entering or exiting the vehicle and working on the porcelain marker board. A 12-kW generator for electric power has been installed in its custom-fabricated all-aluminum compartment. An emergency lights package finishes off the exterior of the vehicle.
WHO OWNS THE ASSET FORFEITURE FUNDS HELD BY THE SHERIFF?
At the budget hearings in April, Sheriff Cameron threatened to use asset forfeiture funds to contract with a college in New York for $385,000 to design violent crime controls over two years for the increasingly ghetto conditions of Lexington Park and Great Mills.
Commissioner John O’Connor responded to the threat with this statement: “The people of this county shouldn’t have to wait for a college in New York to tell them how to solve the violent crime, and it’s a sad indictment of the leadership …. that says we don’t have the experience within to accomplish the goal.”
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE LOOT SCANDAL?
In 2002, the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Department firmly established the propensity of certain deputies in alliance with then Assistant Sheriff Capt. Steven Doolan to steal assets seized during a raid of a drug dealer. When St. Mary’s States Attorney Richard Fritz declined to prosecute Wendell Ford, Judge John Slade ordered Ford’s property returned to him, but deputies had already committed an inside heist. The Maryland State Prosecutor issued a report to Sheriff David Zylak, which was not released to the public. Sheriff Tim Cameron said the first thing he would do upon assuming office in 2006 would be to release the LOOT SCANDAL report but has never done so. Faced with firing, Doolan retired, and no one was prosecuted for stealing a tractor-trailer load of building materials that went to deputies, Doolan’s stepson, and Doolan’s buddy. A lawsuit filed by Ford ended in a settlement with the county paying Ford for his property.
Charles Commissioners keep track of Sheriff’s forfeiture funds
The Department of Justice lays down the law on asset forfeiture as follows:
“There may be instances in which a prosecutor declines to proceed with a judicial forfeiture after a claim has been filed in an administrative forfeiture proceeding. Once that decision is made and the federal government no longer has a legal basis for holding the seized property the agency that seized the property must return it to the appropriate party, initiate abandonment proceedings pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 8.10(e), or otherwise dispose of it in accordance with the law. In determining the appropriate party to whom to return the seized property, the seizing agency should follow the same guidance for the return of property pursuant to quick release, including providing prompt notification to the appropriate party.”
Pre-seizure judicial authorization of property seizures serves multiple purposes, including:
• allowing neutral and detached judicial officers to review the basis for seizures before they occur.
• enhancing protection for Department officers against potential civil suits claiming wrongful seizures; and
• reducing the potential that the public will perceive property seizures to be arbitrary and capricious. Whenever practicable, Department officials should obtain ex parte judicial approval by, for example, obtaining a seizure warrant, before seizing personal property.
The Justice Department says that when charges are dropped, the property must be returned to the person from whom it was taken.
In St. Mary’s County, the caveat must be added, “if the property hasn’t already been purloined by deputies.”
In 2021 before Congress, a bill was submitted to make serious changes to the asset forfeiture laws.
Rep. Raskin of Maryland offered this testimony at the hearing:
Law enforcement, under the civil asset forfeiture laws, can seize money, cars, vans, boats, and other vehicles, even people’s homes and offices, and then keep the cash or sell the property to augment their agency’s budget, their auto fleets, their holiday party and social activity funds, athletic and gymnastic facilities, and other government facilities and activities.
Because these laws often lack the bare minimum of due process protections, many of these operations are, in fact, trampling every major component of constitutional due process.
Law enforcement agents can seize and permanently deprive people of their assets without ever arresting them, much less charging them with a crime, much less convicting them of a crime. And that is why we call this civil asset forfeiture because the state is not going through the ordinary criminal process and sustaining the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt someone has committed a crime. Rather, people’s property is just being seized.
And again, you don’t have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt or even by a preponderance of the evidence in court first that the property is somehow tainted by crime. You don’t even have to charge the person. You don’t even have to arrest the person. The state is just seizing the property.
And law enforcement agents can seize and forfeit the assets of innocent third-party owners even if the person whose property is being seized had no knowledge that their property was being allegedly used in connection with a suspected crime. Under this system, a grandmother’s car or a parent’s apartment can be seized if police suspect that the grandchild or child is possessing drugs or committing some other kind of criminal offense on the property. That is an outrageous breach of the most basic concepts of civil justice, due process, and property rights. And too often these seizures become permanent, even if charges are never brought against a person whose assets are seized.
Even if criminal charges are never even brought, it can be extremely difficult, virtually impossible to recover your property. So, civil asset forfeitures flip the constitutional standards of a citizen’s presumption of innocence and the government’s duty or burden to prove guilt on their head. Just flip it over and, thus, deprive people of their due process rights.
In most cases, law enforcement can seize and keep the property using a very low evidentiary burden. Even if it does get to court, even if the person whose property is seized goes to court, finds a lawyer, pays to go, even then, the lowest evidentiary burden of simple reasonable suspicion of a crime is what is often used, and hearsay is often used in the process.
Conversely, the property owner must be the one who goes to court and affirmatively prove that their assets are not connected to a crime or that they had no knowledge that they were connected to a crime. Your property, in essence, is presumed guilty, and this is a scandalous inversion of due process.
Because these are civil rather than criminal actions, poor Americans who are caught up in this process have no right to appointed counsel. The civil forfeiture proceedings are bewilderingly complex to navigate for laypeople. A single filing error can result in permanent forfeiture, and the value of seized assets is often less than it would cost to hire an attorney in the case of someone just having a small amount of money taken from them on the street, for example. As a result, civil asset forfeitures are rarely challenged, and successful challenges are very rare.
Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies in many states keep the proceeds from forfeited assets, leading to massive windfalls in some police department or sheriff department budgets. This is true even in states that have abolished civil asset forfeiture because of a massive loophole in the federal law we will discuss today called the Adoption and Equitable Sharing Programs.
Under these programs, seizures made by state and local law enforcement can be adopted by a federal agency for forfeiture, and then up to 80 percent of those revenues can be equitably shared and returned to the seizing agency. This creates a perverse profit incentive because law enforcement agencies can keep the revenues from forfeitures with little, if any, oversight as to how the money is being spent.
SHERIFF CAMERON HAS A RESPONSIBILITY TO BE HONEST WITH CITIZENS ABOUT SPENDING
TO THE EDITOR:
This is clear proof of the sheer arrogance of a Sheriff on a power binge! He treats seized drug assets as his personal hoard of money, flaunting any accountability to the voters on how it is spent.
Yes, the law is far too loose, but an elected Sheriff has a moral obligation and responsibility to “SERVE” his citizens, which includes informing them, listening to them, and working to fulfill what they want to be done!
Instead, he is a ready-made poster example of total disregard for the people he claims to represent! 3 Mobile Command Units in one relatively small county law enforcement agency? 2 Purchased within 2 years of each other? Do you purchase new cars that often?
In the photo of the Sheriff, Captain with UnderSheriff a the door of their “trailer Mobile Headquarters” they look like the “Good Wrench” GM Mechanics at the start of their shift in their clean “Dickie” working mechanic’s “uniforms!”
Instead, they have abandoned the neatly uniformed dress Uniform of the Day they wore as working officers with shiny badges (so you knew they really were the police), polished leather gear and polished (gleaming like diamonds) brass/chrome name tags, belt buckles and buttons, topped off by a Stetson Hat. No confusion with an auto mechanic back then. Instead, there were officers who exhibited pride in their uniform appearance and citizens who took pride in seeing them so uniformed. The long-serving and highly respected Sheriff “Buddy” Garner of Charles County dressed in a shirt and tie, quietly going about doing his job. Sheriffs Fuller, Gartland, and Davis all wore the dress uniform, personally setting the standard for the uniform appearance of their officers, as has Sheriff Troy Berry.
Think of the overtime that could have been paid to put more officers into high crime areas instead of purchasing a 3rd Mobile Command Post while the other two still function, or have they been ditched without fessing up to the public and county commissioners? Voters and Citizens receive back that which they put into office, so think carefully when you vote in November, put aside who you like, and vote for the person you feel will serve and make your county better!