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Smithsburg's other officer off the beat

September 11, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

SMITHSBURG - Smithsburg officials, who created a furor when they fired the town's police chief last month, on Wednesday suspended the police powers of the department's only other officer.

Officer Shawn Tyler will be restricted to desk duty for an undetermined length of time pending the outcome of a felony indictment, said Mayor Mildred Myers.

The Washington County Sheriff's Department will continue to provide police protection to the area at a cost of $16 an hour per deputy, said Sheriff Charles F. Mades. Deputies have been assisting the town since former police chief Tommy Bowers was fired by the mayor and Town Council on Aug. 13.

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Tyler, 30, of Thurmont, Md., was indicted by a West Virginia grand jury on Sept. 2 on a charge of falsifying a voter registration card when he was a police officer in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., said Damon Slone, chief of investigations for West Virginia's secretary of state in Charleston, W.Va.

According to the police department, Tyler worked for the Berkeley Springs department for about eight months from December 1994 until he joined the Smithsburg Police Department on July 3, 1995.

At the time, officers working for the Berkeley Springs department were required to live in West Virginia, Slone said. Tyler allegedly filled out a West Virginia voter registration card while living in Thurmont, Md., he said.

Since then the residency requirement has been found unconstitutional, Slone said.

If convicted, Tyler could face one to three years in jail and/or between a $500 and $5,000 fine, Slone said.

Tyler could not be reached for comment. He was driven away from Town Hall Wednesday by the town's maintenance worker before he could be interviewed. Tyler was summoned to Town Hall for a 9:30 a.m. emergency suspension hearing conducted by a hearing board consisting of Myers, Mades and two of Mades' deputies.

The decision to suspend Tyler's police powers was not mandatory, and was Myers' decision, Mades said. Myers served on the suspension board in place of Bowers, Mades said.

Myers said council members were advised of the indictment during a closed meeting Tuesday night when they came to a consensus that Tyler's police powers should be suspended.

Because of the action, Tyler cannot respond to calls or make arrests, according to Myers and Mades. He also cannot carry his police firearm, Mades said.

Tyler will answer the phone and do paperwork, Myers said. He will not wear his police uniform or drive a police cruiser while suspended, she said.

Myers said she hopes to have a new police chief hired by mid-October. The deadline for applications is Sept. 30.

"We want to see a good police department continue in this town," Myers said.

She said she wants to have a second officer as well, but that could depend upon whether the town can get more grant money.

A $75,000 federal grant that expires June 30, 1998, covers Tyler's salary for three years, said Betsy Martin, the town's clerk and treasurer/manager.

Myers said Tyler's restricted duty has nothing to do with anything that happened in town or with the termination of Bowers.

On Sept. 5, supporters of Bowers launched an effort to amend the Smithsburg Town Charter to allow citizens to recall the mayor and council members. They had 218 signatures as of Tuesday night, said Sherry Owen, a member of the Citizens' Police Advisory Committee.

Bowers' firing continued to be protested by a small group of picketers in front of Town Hall during Wednesday morning's hearing.

Town resident Jake Keller, 51, said Myers had been trying to get rid of Tyler.

Bowers said Myers once asked him to release Tyler before his one-year probation period ended.

Myers said she never asked Bowers to release Tyler. She said she asked Bowers as a matter of routine if there were any reasons the town shouldn't keep him on before his probation period ended.

Owen said she doesn't think Tyler will have any problem being acquitted of the charge since the residency requirement was found to be unconstitutional and Tyler lived with an uncle in Berkeley Springs at the time he was working there.

"We're behind Shawn. We will do everything we can to help him," Owen said.

Owen said she could personally attest to how well Tyler did his job.

She said she has seven traffic tickets from Tyler, including speeding and driving with expired tags.

The town's elected officials need to be careful because they are being scrutinized by residents, she said.

Angela Campbell said that as chairwoman of the citizens' committee she supports Bowers, but would not comment on the action against Tyler because she hadn't had a chance to speak with him about the matter.

Tyler also has worked for the Frederick, Md., police department.

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