… Onetime sheriff’s commander pleads guilty to theft, misconduct with ‘sexting’ evidence …
By Kirsten Dize
A former member of Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane’s command staff was sentenced Wednesday to serve 18 months in jail after pleading guilty to a series of thefts as well as removing at least one lewd photograph of an underage girl from an official police file and transferring it to his personal computer.
Mark Bennett Forwood, 43, of Bel Air, was scheduled to begin serving his sentence Thursday, but as of Thursday afternoon it was unclear if he did because he was listed in the Baltimore County Detention Center’s system as being on home detention.
In April 2010, Forwood, a major with the Harford County Sheriff’s Office and a member of the sheriff’s command staff at the time, was suspended with pay after allegations of misconduct were made against him. His salary was $107,660 a year.
On Nov. 1, Forwood was charged by criminal information in Harford County Circuit Court with theft scheme between $1,000 and $10,000 and with misconduct in office.
Three days later, his suspension shifted to without-pay status. Baltimore County Police investigated the case and Baltimore County prosecuted the case because of “an obvious conflict,” Baltimore County Assistant State’s Attorney Jason League said Thursday, referring to Forwood’s status as a Harford County law enforcement officer.
Among the allegations against Forwood was a charge that he moved photographs of a victim in a “sexting” case from the official file to a hidden folder on his personal laptop computer, according to League and court records.
Forwood pleaded guilty to the misconduct charge and theft charges Wednesday, according to court records.
The “sexting” case was being investigated by the Harford County Child Advocacy Center and Forwood was responsible for reviewing the case file to determine that the right person had been charged, League said. Forwood was not involved in investigating the case.
Some time between Nov. 2009 and April 2010 and while the file was in his possession for review, Forwood transferred photographic evidence and placed it on a hidden file on his personal laptop computer, according to League and to court records.
“This was of a naked female victim that were on an evidence CD that he converted from its proper use to his personal use,” League said.
While the girl was under the age of 18, the nature of the images did not rise to Maryland state law’s definition of child pornography, League said. For an image to qualify as child pornography under state law, the subject of the photograph has to be in a state of sadomasochistic arousal.
“One was borderline,” League said of the images.
League said ultimately his legal position is that the images did not qualify as child pornography.
Earlier in his career, Forwood was involved in investigating cases with the Child Advocacy Center.
“There’s no indication that this conduct was ongoing back when he was involved,” League said. “I have nothing to indicate that his conduct in this case was in any way connected to or detrimental to his work with the Child Advocacy Center in his earlier career.”
Between September 2009 and April 2010, Forwood also stole property from both Home Depot and Best Buy on an ongoing basis, according to League.
On multiple occasions, Forwood entered Home Depot stores in Aberdeen and Bel Air, purchased items, typically tools, and put those items in his vehicle, League said.
Forwood then would walk back into the store with his receipt, pick up the same items from the shelf, put them in a cart and walk out a different exit without paying for them, according to League.
If he was stopped, he showed the receipt for the items he had stored in the vehicle.
He then returned the tools that were purchased legitimately and if he was given a gift card in return, sold both the additional tools and the gift cards on websites such as e-Bay and Amazon.com, according to League.
“Ultimately Home Depot figured it out,” League said.
League explained Forwood also stole merchandise from Best Buy.
“We suspect that he was doing the same thing,” League said.
On Nov. 28, 2010, Forwood was again charged with theft.
On that day, an employee with Home Depot Asset Protection saw Forwood take merchandise off of a shelf and put the property inside an empty 18-gallon plastic storage bin, according to charging documents.
Forwood paid for the bin, but not the drill, saw, laser measurer and sander that were hidden inside it, according to charging documents. The merchandise totaled $613.25, according to charging documents.
On Nov. 30, Forwood was fired from the Harford County Sheriff’s Office.
On Wednesday, Forwood appeared in both Harford County district and circuit courts.
“They were both resolved yesterday,” Augustus Brown, Forwood’s lawyer, said of Forwood’s cases Thursday.
First, Forwood appeared before Circuit Court Judge Emory Plitt where he pleaded guilty to both theft scheme between $1,000 and $10,000 and misconduct in office.
Plitt sentenced Forwood to six years in jail, with four years and six months of the sentence suspended. He was sentenced to serve 18 months in the Baltimore County Detention Center.
“Since he was a law enforcement agent up here, the judge didn’t want anyone in the detention center here to do him any favors,” Brown said.
There were also concerns for Forwood’s safety if anyone he was responsible for putting behind bars recognized him.
To avoid any conflict at the Harford County Detention Center, any jail time would be served in Baltimore County.
Court records indicate Forwood is eligible for work release and home detention. At least according to the records office at the Baltimore County Detention Center, he was on home detention as of Thursday afternoon.
Forwood is also required to pay $5,269.99 in restitution to Home Depot and $3,246.65 in restitution to Best Buy.
“Then we literally walked from Judge Plitt’s courtroom to Judge [Susan] Hazlett’s courtroom in District Court,” Brown said.
There, Forwood plead guilty to charges of theft less than $1,000 stemming from the November incident.
Hazlett imposed a sentence of 18 months with six months suspended and allowed that sentence to run concurrent to the sentence imposed by Plitt.
Forwood is not required to pay additional restitution in that case.
“Anything that he was accused of taking was recovered and it was recovered in good condition so the items were sold,” Brown said.
As part of his commitment and probation conditions, Forwood is ordered to forfeit his seized computer equipment and not to access Internet sites that display child pornography, according to court records.
Forwood was born in Havre de Grace where his father owned a used car dealership and a popular gas station more than three decades ago, according to Brown. His mother still lives in Havre de Grace, Brown said.
The Harford County Sheriff’s Office had no comment Thursday about the case.