Sharpsburg-area residents and others plan to hold a meeting Saturday at Sharpsburg Town Hall to discuss the way Maryland State Police handled a search for illegal firearms last month at a man’s home on Mills Road, one of the organizers said Monday.
Sharpsburg Vice Mayor Bryan Gabriel said the noon meeting also would be a way for residents to show support for 46-year-old Terry Porter, who could not be found when police entered his property at 4433 Mills Road on Nov. 29. Porter surrendered to authorities a day later.
“It was kind of overwhelming,” Gabriel said of the show of force that included SWAT teams from Washington County, state police and the FBI. “They could have put a lot of people at risk.”
He said one of his concerns was that armed officers who were searching in the woods near Porter’s rural home could have shot a hunter by mistake.
Gabriel said about 60 people attended a similar meeting Dec. 8 at Town Hall.
The town, he said, was not involved with planning either meeting.
“It’s just kind of the citizens getting together and using Town Hall as a place to meet,” Gabriel said.
Porter was charged Nov. 30 with seven counts each of being a convicted felon in possession of a rifle or shotgun and possession of firearms after being convicted of a disqualifying offense, court records show.
Porter’s criminal record includes a 1992 conviction for aiding and abetting in the distribution of marijuana before a U.S. magistrate in West Virginia, according to U.S. District Court documents. He was sentenced to six months incarceration and three years probation in the case.
A person wishing to remain anonymous contacted state police in early November, telling them that Porter “has been getting crazier and crazier over the past several years,” charging documents said. The person also told police that Porter had 10 to 15 “machine gun style firearms,” six handguns, up to 10,000 rounds of ammunition and a bunker under his driveway.
Two searches of Porter's property — one Nov. 29 by warrant and a consent search Nov. 30 — turned up four shotguns, a .30-30-caliber rifle and two .22-caliber rifles, according to court records.
Gabriel said Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore and Lt. Tom Woodward, commander of the Maryland State Police barrack near Hagerstown, were invited to attend the upcoming meeting on Saturday.
Woodward said Monday that he planned to attend.
“I’m not going to go,” Mullendore said Monday during a telephone interview. “I told the people it wasn’t (the sheriff’s office’s) case. I don’t want to get in to the situation where I’m putting myself, the sheriff’s office, against the state police. It was their case. I think they should handle it.”
Mullendore said state police didn’t notify the sheriff’s office before the search took place. State and federal officials aren’t required to tell the sheriff’s office before they conduct a search in Washington County, he said, “but typically, as a courtesy, they’ll let us know.”
Mullendore said the sheriff’s office didn’t know about the raid until state police called the Washington County Special Response Team for assistance.
Woodward said local law enforcement officials weren’t notified because troopers initially planned to serve a routine search warrant. The situation escalated when troopers couldn’t find Porter on the first floor of the home, Woodward said. They also heard a rumor from several people that the property might have been booby trapped.
“We felt he might be in a location where he had a tactical advantage ... The belief was he had sequestered himself in a secure location,” Woodward said.
He said the officers decided to tone down their response after they talked to some of Porter’s friends, who said he wasn’t an aggressive person.
Special Agent Rich Wolf, spokesman for the FBI office in Baltimore, said state police also called an FBI SWAT team to assist.
He said SWAT teams from other agencies often are called in during long operations to give each other a break.
“We were just there to assist,” Wolf said.
Gabriel was one of at least several local residents who said they support Porter.
“He’s a real stand-up guy,” Gabriel said. “If you call him at 2 o’clock in the morning or 2 o’clock in the afternoon, he’s there — and not for money,” Gabriel said.
Chris Anders, a former Sharpsburg resident who lives in Shepherdstown, W.Va., said he believed Porter was targeted by police because he was critical of the government.
“Terry is nonviolent,” said Anders, who is a member of Campaign for Liberty, an organization, which among other things, supports a smaller federal government. “We want to not only be sure Terry is cleared of all charges, but that none of this happens to another member of our community.”
Porter said Monday that he couldn’t comment about his case at the advice of his attorney, but said he wanted to thank his friends and family for their support.
“I want to thank everyone who’s been pulling for me,” he said.