Town government vindicated in
(9/15/2004) The Town of Thurmont learned this week that a civil suit filed by
six Thurmont police officers against the town more than a year ago has been
On Aug. 31, Frederick County Circuit Court Judge found
in favor of the Town of Thurmont, former police Chief Neil Bechtol, current
Chief Terry Frushour and Lt. Troy Angell in a case filed by six of the Thurmont
Police Department's officers in July 2003.
An appeal to the decision may still be filed. The
officers' attorney said he does intend to file an appeal to the decision.
The officers completely altered the suit's allegations
in February 2004 and alleged the town violated the Maryland Constitution,
violated Maryland wiretapping laws and engaged in a civil conspiracy to violate
the wiretapping laws.
Thurmont police officers Shawn R. Tyler, Jeffrey T.
Gerring, Christopher A. McLoughlin, James N. Davis, Michael A. Figgins Jr. and
Richard T. White filed the suit. They were represented by Michael J. Belsky, of
Schlachman, Belsky and Weiner, P.A., of Baltimore.
The original defendants were Frushour, Bechtol, Angell,
the mayor and town commissioners of Thurmont, the Thurmont Police Department
and Frederick County.
In February, the officers dropped Frederick County as a
And in July, the court dismissed the mayor and town
commissioners as defendants. At that time, the court also dismissed some of the
In the decision received by the town on Sept. 13, Judge
G. Edward Dwyer ended what had been a heated battle for nearly two years.
The original complaint to the court was that Bechtol,
Angell and Frushour installed a video camera in then-Chief Bechtol's office in
2002 in an attempt to record employees within the department without their
knowledge or consent. Taping both visual and audio scenes in the office, the
effect was to negligently create a hostile work environment and negligently
violate the wiretapping act, the former suit claimed.
Additional claims stated the officers were monitored on
their squad car radios, also without their knowledge or consent.
The February amendment to the suit removed any mention
of negligence and claimed the acts were "willful" violations of the wiretapping
The amended suit also alleged the town and others
violated parts of the Maryland Constitution that deal with search and seizure
and due process.
In a December 2002 investigation by the Maryland State
Prosecutor's office about the taping, the prosecutor found there was no
malicious or criminal intent, something that is required to show a violation of
the wiretapping act.
The amount of damages sought in the case was about
$800,000 for each claim.
In Dwyer's decision on the civil suit, he noted that
the court could not find a "genuine dispute as to material facts" and issued a
summary judgment releasing all remaining defendants Bechtol, Frushour, Angell
and the Town of Thurmont.
Dwyer explained that the town did not intrude on the
privacy or seclusion of the officers by making the tapes. This is because the
taping was done in the chief's office, which is regularly used by up to nine
"It cannot be said that the [officers] had a reasonable
expectation of privacy...," he wrote.
In the matter of intercepting communications on the car
radios, Dwyer wrote that again the officers could not have had any reasonable
expectation of privacy. Not only were the cars and the radios the property of
the police department, but radio signals are regularly scanned by the public.
Burns said Tuesday that the suit is over for the town,
unless the officers decide to appeal, which they have the right to do.
Belsky, the officers' attorney, would only say
Wednesday that he disagreed with the judge's conclusions regarding the summary
judgment and that the officers would file an appeal.
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