… Lincoln costume pickup, citation delivery listed in released documents …
By Jean Marbella and Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun
10:05 PM EDT, April 8, 2011
The instructions for the police officer were nearly as detailed as for an undercover sting, filled with specifics about time, place, contact person, transfers of money and the size and contents of the pickup:
“Mr. Leopold had me reserve Lincoln Costume. Driver to pick up on Monday, February 2, 2009 and bring to office … Mr. Leopold said make SURE the driver checks everything to make sure it is all there (hat, beard, glue, coat etc etc) Especially the glue and beard and hat (size 23 1/2 is what we measured) and coat. He doesn’t want anything missing.
“The cost is $177.02 which includes tax and Mr. Leopold will pay for this himself so the [driver] should secure a check or the cash from him before embarking for the costume shop.”
That, according to documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun, was among the tasks that Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold had his police security detail perform for him in advance of his reciting the Gettysburg Address at a Glen Burnie mall in February 2009.
Leopold, a Republican known for a fascination with Abe Lincoln and a propensity to dress up as the 16th president, is being investigated by state prosecutors, who are looking into whether he used county police officers on his security detail to do campaign work. Members of the detail allegedly picked up a $4,000 campaign contribution for him last year.
Leopold has acknowledged that members of the detail have performed “errands” for him. But he has denied any wrongdoing, and said he believes the complaints that led to the investigation are politically motivated.
While police are commonly assigned to drive and protect elected officials, they are generally used for official government events. Using them for campaign or personal errands, ethics experts and spokespersons for other Maryland officials said, is considered off-limits.
“A security person should not be put in the position of doing personal valet things for his employer,” said Julian L. Lapides, a former state senator and member of Maryland Ethics Commission.
Leopold’s schedule, which The Sun requested under the Maryland Public Information Act, shows he appears to have used the detail — five police officers assigned to drive and protect him — to drop off citations at private functions such as funerals and an event honoring a local yoga instructor.
“Everyone on our staff transports citations depending on who’s in the area, what the particular event is, where the request came from,” said Leopold spokesman David Abrams. “In a routine day, there are routine things that have to be taken care of and multiple members of the staff help with those routine things.”
With security details spending so much time with the officials they protect, it’s only natural that they’ll occasionally perform a personal task, Lapides said.
‘A little slack’
“It shouldn’t be done, but I’m sure it is done. There are certain things you would do, as a courtesy: ‘I’m going to the post office, can I pick something up for you,'” Lapides said. “Picking up campaign contributions, though, that goes beyond stopping at the dry cleaners. That is absolutely incorrect.
“You want to give a little slack, not too much, just a little,” he said. “If you’re ill, if your driver picks up your medicine — there are degrees.”
Some errands Leopold’s detail undertook came during a time when he was recovering from surgery last year, according to Abrams. Leopold had spinal fusion surgery twice last year and missed a total of three weeks, during which time his detail remained on duty at the hospital and on call when he was recuperating at home, Abrams said.
Top officials such as the governor have round-the-clock details given that they’re always considered on the job, or at least always vulnerable to some kind of danger. That can mean that their details will end up driving them to personal events and staying close at hand.
“The protection for the governor is 24 hours a day,” said Greg Shipley, spokesman for the Maryland State Police, whose Executive Protection Unit assigns troopers to drive and guard top Maryland officials. “So if he’s at a private function or stopping by the mall somewhere, they’re still there.
“But as far as picking up dry cleaning or campaign contributions, that’s not part of their duties,” he said. “They’re focused on protection.”
Shipley said the unit, which has been in place for decades, is clear on its role and, should a problem ever arise, there is a process in place to deal with it. They are under orders, for example, to explain to the official when something is not a part of their duties, and can take any problems to the lieutenant who commands the protection unit, he said.
In Leopold’s case, his security officers amassed so much overtime that the second-term county executive started making less use of them, Abrams said.
Overtime costs rose by nearly $40,000 in 2010, according to a report made public in February after another media request.
“When he received a copy of that report, the county executive was extremely disappointed by the amount of overtime that accrued over that time period,” Abrams.
Unavailable to comment
Leopold was unavailable to discuss the schedules Friday, and county Police Chief James Teare Sr. could not be reached for comment.
According to Leopold’s personal schedule, there were nearly 100 days in 2010 when an officer was listed as being on duty when no events were listed for that day, including holidays and when the county offices were officially closed after last winter’s blizzards. Abrams said that Leopold was typically in the office or at some county event on those days.
Abrams said in an email that “the schedule does not distinguish whether the officer is ‘on duty’ or ‘on call.’ ”
Those who drive and protect officials sometimes can become more akin to personal aides, which is the title given to Howard Dixon, who drove and protected former Mayor Sheila Dixon. (They are not related.) Howard Dixon, a former police officer, was drawn into the investigation that ultimately drove the mayor from office after she was convicted of taking gift cards meant to be distributed to the poor; he testified before a grand jury about her romantic relationship with developer Ronald Lipscomb, and how she gave Dixon $4,000 in cash for him to pay her credit card bill.
Ryan O’Doherty, spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said city staff and her security detail are clear on the division of labor.
“We make clear that the executive protection unit is there for a specific purpose,” he said of the Baltimore police officers assigned to Rawlings-Blake’s detail. “At events, the staff understands that if the mayor needs assistance, holding her briefcase or if she needs a glass of water, that is the staff person’s responsibility.”
If during the course of her day, her detail accompanies her to a campaign event, O’Doherty said, the cost of their time will be reimbursed by the campaign. “We make sure we’re diligent that protocol is adhered to,” O’Doherty said.
More than 1,000 pages of Leopold’s schedule were made available Friday.
“I would ask people to take these things in context, with the thousands and thousands and thousands of daily interaction with the public when the security detail is present,” Abrams said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.
Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun