A MILLION BUCKS WORTH OF SCAM SPEEDING TICKETS ISSUED BY THE SHERIFF IN CHARLES COUNTY
Drivers and Citizens Beware: Thousands of Automated Speed Enforcement Violations have been illegally issued in Charles County by the Howard County Police Department through the Charles County Sheriff’s Department.
BY JOHN E. O’CONNOR
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
Motorists driving on roads in Charles County, Maryland, are being policed by the Howard County Police Department regarding automated speed and red-light enforcement.
This illegal process begins when a Charles County Sheriff’s patrol officer applies their electronic signature to co-sign the violation issued by the Howard County Police Department.
Rather than going through a transparent and local bidding process, the Charles County Sheriff’s Office entered into an illegal agreement with XEROX STATE & LOCAL Solutions, INC, of Fairfax, Virginia, through a price proposal offered to Howard County, which has the Howard County Police Department administering violations in Charles County.
THE DEAL TO ISSUE ILLEGAL TICKETS
While this process is typical in jurisdictions and is often called “Piggy Backing” on a contract for purchases of equipment or vehicles, this unusual situation is that the Charles County Sheriff’s Department relies heavily on the Howard County Police Department to police its citizens. So much so that the Charles County Sheriff’s General Orders make heavy reference to the agency related to Automated Enforcement, Stating the following:
Charles Sheriff Standard Operating Procedures
“All citations are inspected for Quality Control by the Howard County Police Department prior to being mailed. Any citation that is questionable and contains poor images or poor clarity will result in the citation being “spoiled.” Upon discovery of a data processing error within the initial fourteen (14) days of issuance, a Post Approval Edit process can be completed. Anything after day fourteen (14) will be voided.”
“Spoiling” a citation occurs during the final quality control inspection of citations that were approved that same day. Poor-quality citations are identified, set aside, and then “spoiled” using the appropriate rejection code. The spoiled citations are emailed to the Charles County Sheriff’s Department. Only citations passing the final quality control inspection are issued. Howard County Police Department personnel are also authorized to spoil citations for the Charles County Sheriff’s Department.
“Once the citation is voided in the computer, it will be documented in the correspondence log, with a detailed explanation. A void letter is sent through Howard County to the individual of the citation, releasing them from any obligation for this citation.”
According to Maryland State Law, Automated Enforcement Violations must be issued to the owner of a vehicle. However, in state law, owners of vehicles do not include Rental Car Companies, Short Term Leases of six months or less, and Certain specialty plates according to Title 13.
(3) (i) “Erroneous violation” means a potential violation submitted by a speed monitoring system contractor for review by an agency that is apparently inaccurate based on a technical variable that is under the control of the contractor.
(ii) “Erroneous violation” includes a potential violation based on:
1. A recorded image of a registration plate that does not match the registration plate issued for the motor vehicle in the recorded image;
2. A recorded image that shows a stopped vehicle or no progression;
3. An incorrectly measured speed for a motor vehicle;
4. A measured speed of a motor vehicle that is below the threshold speed that would subject the owner to a civil citation under this section;
5. A recorded image that was taken outside of the hours and days that speed monitoring systems are authorized for use in school zones; and
6. A recorded image that was taken by a speed monitoring system with an expired calibration certificate.
(4) (i) “Owner” means the registered owner of a motor vehicle or a lessee of a motor vehicle under a lease of 6 months or more.
(ii) “Owner” does not include:
1. A motor vehicle rental or leasing company; or
2. A holder of a special registration plate issued under Title 13, Subtitle 9, Part III of this article.
When Charles County Sheriff Troy Berry was asked if he knew that in 2022 alone, his agency issued well over 3,000 violations to EAN Holdings (Enterprise Alamo National), a short-term rental company violating state law, he admitted he was completely unaware that his agency was illegally operating the automated camera systems.
Only after THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY began investigating the process did the Charles County Sherriff’s Department acknowledge the epidemic of illegal actions and provide the following quote:
“During an initial screening of our data, it appears that verified speed violations were sent to some rental car companies in error. As a result, we are currently conducting an audit of automated speed citations to identify those instances.”
When asked if refunds would be issued to the thousands of drivers who were illegally given violations, the Charles County Sheriff’s Department responded with the following:
“Based on the results of our audit, the CCSO will take any necessary corrective actions, which may also include refunding fines paid.”CHARLES COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT
“Based on the results of our audit, the CCSO will take any necessary corrective actions, which may also include refunding fines paid.”
Thus far, based on THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY investigation, it is apparent that the Charles County Sheriff’s Department for calendar year 2022 owes over 3000 drivers’ restitution at a minimum of $120,000.00.
The total amount of refunds that could be issued is undetermined at this time. Still, based on these numbers and the program’s length of operation, it is possible that the Charles County Government could owe anywhere up to $1,000,000.00 in refunds to compensate for illegal tickets.
It is evident that had the Sheriff’s Office been properly trained and administered the program itself rather than the Howard County Police Department, this dereliction of state law may have been caught earlier or even prevented from happening in the first place.
CHARLES COMMISSIONERS MUM ON SCAM TICKET OPERATION
The Commissioners of Charles County were asked for comment related to the Sheriff’s Office’s illegal issuance of over 3,000 automated enforcement violations totaling at least the amount of $120,000 just for EAN Holdings in 2022 and if they were aware the Howard County Police Department was policing their citizens.
However, the Charles County Commissioners returned no phone calls or emails before publication.
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY was unable to obtain further records that exist from the Charles County Sheriff’s Department to unearth the full scope of the illegally issued violations and how many drivers were entitled to a refund as Charles County Sheriff Berry stated the following in response to one request for documents for those illegally issued violations:
“For example, for the year of 2022, EAN Holdings has over 3,000 citations. They would have to be looked at individually to determine what company they are with. This will take an extreme amount of research time that would likely result in a large fee you would be responsible for paying.”
An audit of other jurisdictions, including Prince George’s County, Calvert County, and Baltimore City, revealed that they substantially complied with state law and offered transparency when dealing with the administrative review process, which is crucial to proper adjudication as required by the Speed Camera Accountability Act.
However, the St Mary’s County Sheriff’s Department, which does not have an automated enforcement program, refused to comply with any records requests related to documentation of their pursuit of automated enforcement in St Mary’s County. An appeal is being processed for these legally releasable documents as per the Maryland Public Information Act.
(Editor’s Note: John O’Connor first became aware of the illegal traffic citations when he received one or more himself issued to rental vehicles he owns.)