Todd Opts For Replacement To Prosecute State’s Attorney

OCEAN CITY – A special prosecutor was assigned this week to handle the prosecution of Wicomico County State’s Attorney Davis R. Ruark, arrested last Friday in Ocean City for drunk driving and later charged with a handgun violation.

Citing a long-standing professional relationship with Ruark, Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd announced on Wednesday his intention to have Rockville, Md., attorney Thomas M. Degonia service as special prosecutor in the case against Ruark. Degonia was formerly an assistant state’s attorney in Montgomery County.

The announcement Degonia was being assigned as a special prosecutor in the case came at the end of a whirlwind couple of days that began with Ruark’s arrest on drunk-driving and traffic related charges last Friday. On Monday, the Ocean City Police Department announced it was applying for a weapons charge against Ruark, evoking a section of the Maryland Public Safety Article related to a person carrying a permitted handgun while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Ruark, 52, of Parsonsburg, was arrested on Chesapeake Drive in Ocean City last Friday after resort police received a 911 around 9:40 p.m. from a local resident who had been following a vehicle speeding and driving erratically on the Route 90 bridge and provided a description of the vehicle and a tag number.

Shortly thereafter, OCPD officers observed the vehicle, a black 2000 Nissan registered to the Wicomico County government, at the foot of the bridge. OCPD officers followed the vehicle northbound on Coastal Highway and observed it going 50 mph in a 40 mph zone. The car traveled turned west on 94th Street and was seen crossing the center line of the roadway.

Resort police stopped the vehicle on Chesapeake Drive and identified the driver as Ruark. After failing several field sobriety tests, Ruark was placed under arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol. When asked if he had a handgun in the vehicle, Ruark told police there was a handgun in the center console, according to the statement of charges. A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed a Glock semi-automatic .45-caliber handgun, which Ruark was permitted to carry, in the center console along with ammunition.

Ruark was transported to OCPD headquarters where he was administered a breath test, the results of which revealed a breath-alcohol content of .15, or nearly twice the legal limit in Maryland. Ruark was processed and later released to Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis after signing citations.

From the beginning, Ruark was forthcoming with the public and press following his arrest and publicly apologized for his actions during a press conference on Saturday.

“This is, by far, the saddest day of my professional career,” he said. “I made a tremendous error in judgment.”

On Monday, the OCPD filed an application with the District Court Commissioner’s Office to charge Ruark with a handgun violation. Ruark is permitted to carry the handgun, but state law prohibits a person who holds a permit from wearing, carrying or transporting a handgun while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The violation is a misdemeanor carrying a maximum sentence of one year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

The decision to tack on the weapons charge appears to have come solely from the OCPD and Chief Bernadette DiPino. The OCPD did consult with Todd following the incident about the law related to the handgun, but Todd only advised the chief about the letter of the law and did not make a recommendation, according to his statement.

“When contacted by Ocean City Police Chief Bernadette DiPino about the alleged handgun violation, Todd was asked only what the appropriate law was,” the statement reads. “He did not direct her to charge or not charge for this crime, nor did she ask for such advice. Todd made it clear to Chief DiPino that he was seeking a special prosecutor and could not advise her whether or not to charge.”

The decision to add the weapons charge against Ruark ruffled the Wicomico prosecutor’s feathers. Ruark told The Baltimore Sun he was taken aback by the OCPD’s decision.

“During my conversation, I apologized to her and her officers and she did not have the courtesy to inform me that another charge was being considered,” he said. “All in all, I was disappointed in that lack of professional response to me.”

According to Todd, both the State Prosecutor’s Office and the Maryland Attorney General’s Office declined to provide a special prosecutor for the Ruark case because it is neither an alleged case of public corruption nor a conflict of interest of its own.

“Todd has stated that he knew as soon as he received a call about Ruark’s arrest that he would seek a special prosecutor,” the statement reads. “He told police then to treat Mr. Ruark just like any other drunk driving suspect.”

Ruark has since taken a leave of absence as state’s attorney for Wicomico County, but has not made any indication he intends to resign the position.

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