SHARPSBURG, Md. — Sharpsburg-area residents concerned about the way Maryland State Police conducted a recent search for illegal firearms gathered Saturday at a meeting to question a state police representative about the operation.
The residents said they were concerned about the overwhelming show of force during the Nov. 29 incident when law enforcement officials searched for Terry Porter, 46, of 4433 Mills Road near Sharpsburg. Besides state police, an FBI SWAT team assisted in the operation, and the Washington County Special Response Team also was asked to assist later.
Porter gave himself up a day later and has been charged 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, according to court records.
“We all felt there was excessive force involved, and we felt that a member of our community was victimized and we wanted to get to the bottom of it and get some answers,” said Erin Moshier, who was at the meeting.
Moshier said there are laws in place that violate the civil rights of citizens, and steps need to be taken to change some of those laws.
The community meeting at Sharpsburg Town Hall was attended by about 60 people, and many had questions for Lt. Tom Woodward, commander of the state police barrack near Hagerstown. Also in attendance was Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington.
“I don’t think that all the steps were taken to ensure a safe environment here in Sharpsburg, ensure Terry’s safety,” said Robert Small, another concerned citizen.
Small said “no-knock” search warrants such as the kind used to search Porter’s home are a problem.
“We all defend homes and we are willing to defend our homes no matter what ... With any luck, policy will change in the state ... From now on, nothing gets conducted in the county without the sheriff’s knowledge of it,” Small said.
Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore has said that state police did not tell the sheriff’s office before serving the search warrant. The sheriff’s office came to know about the incident when state police asked the Washington County Special Response Team for help.
Woodward said it is common practice to apply for a no-knock warrant if police believe that evidence could be destroyed or if somebody could get hurt.
“If the judge issues that, we can go forward with it,” he said.
A search of Porter’s property over two days on Nov. 29 and 30 led to the discovery of four shotguns, a .30-caliber rifle and two .22-caliber rifles.
Porter was convicted in 1992 of aiding and abetting in the distribution of marijuana before a U.S. magistrate in West Virginia, according to court documents.
Woodward said he did not know of the investigation until half an hour before the briefing that led to the search warrant.
“I have the utmost respect for Sheriff Mullendore and the utmost respect for the sheriff’s department in this county ... as soon as the operation commenced, Sheriff Mullendore was notified,” Woodward said.
He said state police were trying to limit exposure of the information to the greatest degree possible.
“The sheriff and the sheriff’s department did not need to know. We have an excellent relationship with the sheriff’s department,” Woodward said. “We work together, but this was a state police investigation ... our firearms unit conducted the investigation”
Parrott said he had heard the concerns of the residents and he would try to address some issues that came up at Saturday’s meeting, including why state police have to notify a municipal law enforcement agency when conducting an operation within municipal limits, but do not have to notify county authorities during an operation within county limits.