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Chief has federal contempt hearing

September 09, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The chief of the Charles Town, W.Va., Police Department apologized Thursday for disobeying federal rules on grand jury indictments.

Police Chief William M. Aldridge was called into U.S. District Court to explain why he should not be held in criminal contempt of court for a press release he issued last month.

The release contained the name of a Jefferson County man whose federal indictment was sealed, meaning the information should not have been made public.

U.S. District Judge Craig Broadwater listened to testimony from Aldridge and said he will issue a written ruling on the criminal contempt motion.

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Aldridge said he assumed Ian Carr had already been arraigned on charges of crack cocaine distribution when he sent out a press release Aug. 23 about an Aug. 20 drug sweep at a Charles Town park.

Carr, however, was one of two people already in jail on prior charges and was not among those arraigned on crack cocaine charges from the bust, according to court records.

"I'm sorry to say I made the wrong assumption," Aldridge said.

Carr's name should have remained sealed until his arraignment, according to the federal motion.

"William M. Aldridge improperly took upon himself the role of public relations spokesperson in a federal matter," Godwin's contempt motion stated.

Wearing his Charles Town Police uniform, Aldridge took the witness stand Thursday afternoon.

Aldridge, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent, testified that he had no intentions of subverting the grand jury process and that he was under "a tremendous amount of pressure" from citizens and elected officials to do something about Charles Town's drug problem.

"I felt I had to make a release," Aldridge said.

Godwin said it was "a very hard decision" to file the criminal contempt motion but said he felt it was necessary to protect the rules surrounding federal grand juries and sealed indictments.

"The purpose is not to embarrass or punish. It's to get people back on the right track," Godwin said.

Premature publicity of sealed information can put police officers and the public in danger when warrants are served on the indictments, Godwin said.

Godwin did not ask for Aldridge to be jailed or fined and only asked for "light punishment, if any at all."

Neither Godwin nor Aldridge had any comment after the hearing.

A team of about 45 local and federal police officers raided Evitts Run Park in Charles Town Aug. 20 after a three-and-a-half month investigation into drug activity there.

Aldridge and Ranson Police Chief William Roper had asked for federal help to shut down what they believed was an open-air drug market being run five blocks from the Charles Town Police Department.

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