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Ruling on police lawsuit coming

Ingrid Mezo
The Gazette

(9/1) A Special Appeals Court in Annapolis may decide today whether to overrule the Frederick County Circuit Court decision to effectively dismiss a multimillion-dollar lawsuit that six Thurmont police officers filed against their superiors and the town in July 2003.

‘‘We are hoping to hear by [today]," Mayor Martin Burns said.

The outcome will not impact the town’s plans to expand its police force and build a new police building, Burns said.

The County Circuit Court granted summary judgment in September 2004 for the case, which in effect dismissed the lawsuit, said Michael McAuliffe, attorney for former police Chiefs Neil Bechtol and Terry Frushour. Former Thurmont police Sgt. Troy Angell and the Thurmont Board of Commissioners are also defendants in the case.

The Court of Special Appeals in Annapolis is Maryland’s second-highest court. If the Special Appeals Court decides that the case warrants a jury trial, it will send it back to the Frederick County Circuit Court to conduct a trial.

Alternately, the Special Appeals Court could decide that the Circuit Court acted appropriately in granting summary judgment.

‘‘Right now, the Circuit Court said even if everything [the plaintiffs] are saying is true, that is not grounds for [them] to recover damages," McAuliffe said.

The six officers who filed the suit are Shawn R. Tyler, Jeffrey T. Gerring, Christopher A. McLoughlin, James N. Davis, Michael A. Figgins Jr., and Richard T. White.

Figgins, McLoughlin and Tyler still serve on the town’s police force, according to Administrative Assistant for Thurmont Police Sherry Langley.

The officers are suing for damages that amount to about $800,000 for each claim, town attorney Debra Borden said last year. The officers allege that their rights were violated and their superiors broke state laws when audio-visual recordings were made of them in the chief’s office and when command staff listened in on conversations that took place inside the officers’ cruisers.

There are nine counts in the officers’ suit, defense attorney for the town Linda Springrose said in a phone interview Monday. Two of the counts deal with privacy issues.

‘‘The officers are claiming that their superiors intentionally intruded upon their private affairs," Springrose said.

Such intrusions must be highly offensive to a reasonable person based upon statements in case law, she said.

‘‘We maintain that [the officers filing suit] were on public frequencies on the job, working for the public, in publicly owned cars," Springrose said.

The plaintiffs also claim that their commanding officers violated the Maryland wire-tapping act because their oral communications were intercepted by electronic means.

The officers also claiming civil conspiracy, where two or more individuals either agree to commit an unlawful act or agree to use illegal methods to do something that is not illegal in itself, Springrose said.

‘‘We argued this case in the Court of Special Appeals early in the summer," McAuliffe said. ‘‘It usually takes 60 to 90 days for them to reach a decision, so it could be any day now."

But there is no civil requirement for the court to issue the decision in that timeframe, Springrose said. When the decision is issued depends on the workload of the judges involved in the case.

‘‘Most do try to get last year’s cases out by Sept. 1," Springrose said.

Attorney for the plaintiffs Michael J. Belsky did not return several phone calls for comment by The Gazette’s press time.

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