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Troubled times for Thurmont Police Department staff

Jeremy Hauck
The Gazette

A Thurmont police officer’s disagreement with a Frederick County assistant state’s attorney has revealed a troubled side of a small-town police department that nearly disbanded just three years ago.

When Lt. Shawn R. Tyler of the Thurmont Police Department told an assistant state’s attorney in August 2007, and reportedly again in court last week, that he deleted photographs the attorney felt were necessary for trial, he set in motion a chain of events that led to his resignation on Sunday.

Tyler was second-in-command to Thurmont Police Chief Gregory L. Eyler, who promoted Tyler to be his right-hand man just 13 months ago, finding in him ‘‘a motivator, a teacher ... and someone who was loyal to the agency."

A department that seemed to be past an ugly internal spying scandal from 2001 has been plunged back into trouble, as only seven of 12 officers patrol Thurmont’s streets.

Thurmont has $691,000 budgeted for the police department for fiscal 2008; $545,000 of it for police salaries.

Thurmont commissioners called an emergency executive session on Saturday, and Tyler resigned Sunday.

Commissioners on Monday read a statement about the executive session: ‘‘A vote was taken to recommend to Chief Eyler to initiate an emergency suspension, and investigation of a town employee," the statement reads. The vote was unanimous. The statement did not identify the town employee who was the subject of the meeting.

An attempt to reach Tyler Wednesday was unsuccessful.

Mayor Martin A. Burns and Eyler did not return phone calls seeking comment by The Gazette’s press time.

Commissioner Glenn D. Muth, the board’s liaison to the Police Commission, did not elaborate on the executive session or the statement. ‘‘The statement speaks for itself," he said.

By the time Eyler became chief just more than two years ago, two previous chiefs had resigned in the aftermath of a dust-up between the department’s leadership and officers.

Tyler played a leading role in that episode.

In 2003, Tyler and five other Thurmont officers took their superiors and the Town of Thurmont to court for violating their privacy. Of the plaintiffs, only Officer First Class Christopher A. McLoughlin remains on the force.

The officers accused then-Chief Neil F. Bechtol, Lt. Terry Frushour, and Sgt. Troy A. Angell of using a motion-detecting video camera to spy on their movements in the office, and of using police-issued transmitters to eavesdrop on their private conversations while they were on patrol.

None of the defendants remain in the department.

According to court documents, Tyler discovered a hidden video camera in Bechtol, Frushour and Angell’s office in 2002. The leaders said they installed the camera because officers were entering the office without permission. The leaders also said the officers themselves turned on their transmitters, which they wore on their belts.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals sided with the town and the department leadership in September 2005, and the case was dismissed.

Bechtol quit in June 2002, before Tyler discovered the camera. Though Mayor Burns proposed Eyler as Bechtol’s replacement, commissioners gave Frushour the position. Frushour resigned in July 2005.

E-mails from Aug. 30, 2007, filed as court documents, show that Assistant State’s Attorney Teresa R. Bean demanded, from Eyler and Tyler, pictures she said Tyler took of a defendant’s shoes.

Tyler apparently took the pictures himself, while the defendant was being held in jail.

Bean is prosecuting Daniel D. Jenkins, 18, of Thurmont on charges of assault, malicious destruction of property valued at less than $500 and disorderly conduct. A three-day trial is expected to begin Tuesday.

In the e-mails, Bean is adamant that the pictures, which apparently Tyler deleted and told her were not valuable as evidence for the case, be included in the trial.

Thurmont police arrested Jenkins on Aug. 17, 2007, on Thurmont’s downtown square. Police allege in charging documents that Jenkins punched and kicked a man until the man bled, and pushed a woman who tried to break up the fight into a wall, after a verbal argument with the man escalated.

Both victims were taken by ambulance to Frederick Memorial Hospital.

Jenkins was released from the Frederick County Adult Detention Center on bail soon after his arrest. Since then, a search of court cases shows that Jenkins has been pulled over and charged with traffic violations five times, including a stop in Thurmont at 1:54 a.m. on Sunday.

Bean directed questions on the case to State’s Attorney J. Charles Smith III, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

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