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Wells House partially loses case stemming from police probe of assault

John H. McDowell ruled that Hagerstown Police did not violate any federal laws, rules or regulations concerning the use of informants

January 31, 2013|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com

A Washington County Circuit Court judge on Thursday ruled partially against a drug treatment facility in a case involving a Hagerstown Police Department investigation of an alleged assault in its facility, although the facility will retain items seized by police when they searched the center in August.

Wells House Inc., 124 E. Baltimore St. in Hagerstown, was seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting police from “the use of informants in any way relating to patients or residents at a drug/alcohol treatment facility,” John H. McDowell wrote in his order.

McDowell denied the request, writing that Wells House failed to show that the department or city violated any federal laws, rules or regulations concerning the use of informants.

Wells House claimed in a court document that “there are numerous existing controversies” including the “use and status” of informants by police.

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In court filings, attorneys for the city wrote, “regarding the alleged ‘prospective’ use of confidential informants at Wells House, there is and will be no evidence that this alleged violation actually occurred.”

The case involved an alleged assault by one resident of Wells House, Darrin Jones, against another, Herbert Weare, on Aug. 26, 2012. Police allege Jones, who is charged with first- and second-degree assault and reckless endangerment, chased Weare with a butcher knife.

Jones, 44, is scheduled for trial on Feb. 7, court records said.

The police obtained a search warrant that was executed on Aug. 30 where police seized a video surveillance hard drive and photographed a number of residents and staff. Police later obtained the Sept. 6 warrant to examine the contents of the hard drive, court records said.

Wells House subsequently filed for and received a temporary restraining order against the department and later a preliminary injunction. The department was ordered by McDowell to return the materials seized in the search.

Wells House stated in one of its filings that the department did not comply with the law when it failed to present a copy of the September warrant to Wells House, court records said.

McDowell wrote that the police department “failed to comply with several statutes, rules and regulations” in obtaining the search warrant and “is permanently enjoined from seeking search and seizure warrants relating to ... Wells House, Inc., unless such warrants are in full compliance with the applicable federal laws, rules and regulations.”

The police department must be in full compliance with federal and state laws before it can get a warrant, “disclose any alleged confidential information or utilize informants relating to Wells House,” McDowell wrote.

In earlier hearings, Wells House attorney Ira C. Cooke argued that the seizure of the materials violated patient confidentiality provisions of federal and state laws, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Attorneys for both sides presented their final arguments in the case in a hearing on Tuesday, court records said.

McDowell denied Wells House’s request for the department and city to pay attorney’s fees or damages.

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