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Md. bill seeks protection for social workers

February 22, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - When a Hagerstown man allegedly threatened the lives of Washington County child protective service employees, police were powerless to make an arrest.

It wasn't until death threats were aimed at Washington County Circuit Judge Kennedy Boone that charges were leveled.

"It doesn't make sense to me," Social Services Director David Engle testified Tuesday before a the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Engle and five other state employees from Washington County want the Maryland General Assembly to protect all state employees, not just elected officials, from death threats.

"I believe someone's going to get hurt if we don't put a stop to this in the early stages," Engle testified.

Under the bill, sponsored by Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, violators would be subject to a penalty of up to three years in jail and a $2,500 fine.

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Ted and Kelly Ellis, both deputies at the Washington County Detention Center, testified that a former prisoner there sent hand-written death threats to them from Patuxent Institution.

While the nature of the job requires them to put up with offensive comments, the Ellises said the shouldn't have to live in fear after they leave work.

They don't know what will happen when the inmate gets out of prison.

"If he got three more years for every threat that he made, that would be three more years I would feel safe," said Kelly Ellis.

Engle said more and more threats are being hurled at his employees. The most recent came Feb. 10, when a woman left a threatening message on the Department of Social Services' answering machine, Engle said.

Beth O'Hare, who investigates cases of child abuse and neglect, said one father warned in open court that he would take his gun from behind the couch and shoot her.

Later, she saw him following her car and she drove to a police station. When she saw him at the laundromat, she and her child hid in the bathroom, she said.

"I feared because I tried to take his children, he might try to take mine," she said.

Debbie Mills, who enforces child support orders, testified that one man who was delinquent on his payments threatened to harm her.

"He felt that I was deliberately targeting him," Mills said.

Another man threatened social worker Barb Shevokis for months until he was jailed for another offense. The man's wife even called to warn her, she said.

Munson last year submitted similar legislation, which was killed by the Judicial Proceedings Committee.

This year, Munson narrowed the focus to those threats made against employees acting in an official capacity.

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