According to a recent press release by the Prince George’s County Police Department, thirteen of its own officers have been indicted on charges of theft and misconduct in office. The indictment was revealed last week at the Prince George’s County Circuit Court in Upper Marlboro. The defendants in the indictment were mostly experienced members of the police force, as ten were Corporals and one has since retired. Based on the press release the department began an internal investigation after catching wind that several officers were working for a security company and receiving compensation while on duty at police officers. The company serviced more that 20 apartment complexes in the county from at least the end of 2019 until February 2021. The officers were suspended in April of 2021. Among other allegations, the officers allegedly provided false information to the apartment complexes in order to justify their continue employment. The total amount that the officers profited is alleged to be between $1,500 and $25,000, which means they are facing felony charges in addition to the misdemeanor charge for misconduct in office.
The department initiated the investigation after another high-ranking officer pleaded guilty to tax evasion several years ago. In an effort to make sure this type of conduct ends with this indictment, the department has instituted policy changes that began a few months after the officers were suspended. The policy changes include a blanket prohibition on officers working as security guards, as well as hiring a third-party software company to allow officers to clock out of work before beginning secondary employment. The internal affairs division of the department will also conduct site investigations of any secondary employment locations that employees disclose, and these site investigations will be conducted at random.
The officers are charged with theft based on the allegation that they were collecting taxpayer dollars while engaged in private employment. It’s true that the defendants did not physically steal anything, but their pay from the government was accepted under circumstances where the they were clearly double dipping. It is still an interesting and fairly uncommon means of charging a theft case, and if the cases go to trial, there may be some arguments that could sway a jury to acquit. Regardless, state prosecutors seem to be in good shape on the misconduct counts.
Misconduct in office is a common law offense, which means it is not codified or listed among a group of statutes. The law has taken shape over the course of time, but is generally defined as corrupt behavior by a public official during the course of his or her official duties or while acting under color of law. As with all common law offenses, there is no maximum penalty for misconduct in office other than the punishment cannot be cruel or unusual. Common law offenses such as misconduct in office, conspiracy and attempt are all considered misdemeanors, which can come in handy during plea negotiations. The lawyers for these police officers will likely try to prevent the officers from going to jail and becoming convicted felons, though we would have to thoroughly examine the evidence in order to give an opinion of the likelihood of achieving these goals. There are a variety of mitigations arguments that could be available to officers, such as lack of prior criminal record. Lawyers may try to explain that the officers were ready and able to respond to emergencies while working their security jobs, but it’s doubtful this argument would carry much weight. A spokesperson for the police union stated that the prosecution of the officers was politically motivated, but even if this claim has any truth, it’s not going to help the officers much.
The Blog will continue to follow this case and all other local cases involving public corruption. We will post a follow up article in the future when the cases start resolving, but for now stay turned to criminal defense lawyer blog for insight on some of the newsworthy cases. Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland criminal defense lawyer who specializes in misconduct in office, theft, embezzlement and fraud. He also has extensive experience defending employee theft cases, motor vehicle theft, shoplifting and failure to return a rental vehicle, and is available 7 days a week for a free consultation. Contact Benjamin at 410-207-2598 to learn which defenses may be available in your state or federal criminal case.