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Sharpsburg raid prompts two lawmakers to introduce bills to regulate searches

Under the proposed legislation, the chief of the primary law enforcement agency in a county must be notified before an officer from another agency serves a warrant in areas within the county's jurisdiction

January 29, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — Two Washington County legislators have filed bills in the current session of the Maryland General Assembly that would require the chief of the primary law enforcement agency in a county to be notified before an officer from another agency serves a warrant in areas within the county’s jurisdiction.

The bills, which have been filed in the House and the Senate by Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington, and Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington, respectively, are in response to an incident in Sharpsburg in November where the Maryland State Police executed a no-knock search warrant at an address, but the Washington County Sheriff did not know about the operation until after it had begun.

“The police were in the area, and the neighbors were calling the sheriff’s office and they did not know anything about it,” Parrott said.

The delegate said that under current law if state police had to serve a similar search warrant within municipal limits, such as in the City of Hagerstown, they would have to inform the city police.

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The November incident involved a search for Terry Porter, of 4433 Mills Road near Sharpsburg. Porter turned himself in to police the day after the search, and has been charged with several counts of illegal possession of firearms because he is a convicted felon, according to court records.

The search for Porter triggered strong reactions in the Sharpsburg community, with many calling it an overwhelming show of force.

After the incident, representatives of the state police twice met with residents to answer questions about the event.

In one meeting, Lt. Tom Woodward of the Maryland State Police said that his office was trying to limit exposure of the information at the time of the search.

“The sheriff and the sheriff’s department did not need to know. We have an excellent relationship with the sheriff’s department,” Woodward said at the meeting. “We work together, but this was a state police investigation ... our firearms unit conducted the investigation.”

Parrott said had the state police involved the sheriff’s office in the operation, they likely would have much more information.

“They could have come up with a tactical decision that was much better,” he said.

Shank said he was concerned about “the disproportionate response that our community saw as a result of what was a relatively minor firearms offense” although law enforcement officers were allowed to take precautions for their own safety.

Parrott and Shank said that more than 150 officers had taken part in the search, something they said had terrorized the constituents in their district.

“Here we had a situation … over a 150 state police were sent to one person’s house and the local sheriff did not even know about it,” Parrott said. “That top police authority who represents the local police needs to be informed.”

Shank and Parrott recently met with representatives of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the Maryland State Police, including Col. Marcus Brown, the superintendent of the MSP, to discuss the issue.

A hearing on the bill is scheduled before the house judiciary committee at 1 p.m. on Feb. 5.

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