29 Jan 2015

New Sheriff beats his boss in election sues him for protecting crooked cops

Charles County Sheriff Troy Berry's (D) lawsuit against his former boss is underway as the civil jury trial began Monday morning with jury selection at the circuit courthouse in La Plata.
Jurors were presented two witnesses Jan. 26, who testified about Berry's allegations that then-Sheriff Rex Coffey (D) interfered with internal investigations during Coffey's 2006 and 2010 political campaigns and demoted officers who did not support him.
Berry defeated Coffey in the Democratic primary, and ran unopposed in the November general election.
In March 2013, Berry, then an operational patrol commander for the Charles County Sheriff's Office, filed a lawsuit alleging Coffey interfered with internal investigations of officers who supported the former sheriff's 2006 and 2010 campaigns. In addition, the lawsuit alleges Coffey demoted those who supported his opponents, including Berry, who had been promoted in 2006 to the commander of the agency's internal affairs unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility.
Before jury selection Monday, circuit Judge Maureen Lamasney stated that the court would hold the jurors through Jan. 30 for the potential length of the trial.
The trial began Monday afternoon with opening arguments from attorney Matthew M. Bryant, who represents Berry, along with attorney Timothy Maloney.
“We're going to prove Troy Berry was demoted November 2010 by Mr. Coffey because Mr. Berry exercised his right to support [Coffey's] opponent,” Bryant told the 10-person jury. “[The case] is about the fundamental right of an employee to exercise their constitutional rights. At the end of the day, it's about requiring the police to follow the law.”
During his opening argument, Coffey's attorney Jason L. Levine told the jury “this lawsuit is about politics [and] not about Rex Coffey's politics but Troy Berry's politics.”
Levine also said that “Troy Berry thinks Rex Coffey's an idiot” and that Coffey demoted Berry because he did not provide Coffey with investigation updates and did not support Coffey's objectives as the county's sheriff.
Former Charles County State's Attorney Leonard C. Collins Jr. was the first witness called to the stand and questioned by Bryant.
After Collins stated he had concerns with an officer's ethics in 2008, he said he sent Coffey a letter.
“I was concerned the sheriff's office was hosting officers who had integrity issues without notifying the state's attorney's office,” Collins said. “That would jeopardize criminal convictions.”
Collins said Coffey did not respond to his letter. Collins also said he sent another letter in 2009, regarding another incident with an officer, to which Coffey allegedly did not respond.
The following year, Berry, working as an internal affairs investigator, reported an incident to Collins about an officer who allegedly stole a drink from a convenience store.
In a July 2014 videotaped deposition shown in court late Monday and Tuesday morning, Coffey said he was displeased that Berry went behind his back.
In the deposition, Coffey said, “All I've wanted was for Mr. Berry to disclose me of the information he was taking to the state's attorney's office.”
When Maloney asked Coffey on the tape if there were any specific disclosures, Coffey stated he did not recall.
“If I knew I was going to be sued, I would've written those down,” Coffey said in the deposition.
Five days after Coffey's 2010 campaign victory, Maloney said in the video, Coffey called both officer David Saunders and Berry, then a captain, into his office one at a time. Maloney said that, during each meeting, Coffey showed them a 2006 campaign advertisement in the Maryland Independent, regarding Coffey's then-opponent, Fred Davis, and a list of Davis' supporters, including Berry and Saunders.
Coffey stated he showed Berry and Saunders the ad, saying, “I put all this behind me.” He also said the purpose of Berry's demotion was “not to hurt him but to get him away from the command staff,” and “I lost trust in [Berry's leadership].”


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