Three More Prosecutors Needed For Wicomico Probes

SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County added three new positions within the Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office this week to provide additional resources for two separate investigations.

On Tuesday, the Wicomico County Council voted 6-1, with Councilman Bill McCain opposed, to amend the county’s classification and pay plan by adding two new prosecutor positions and one new special investigator position within the state’s attorney’s office as two separate investigations move forward that could impact pending and closed criminal cases.

“This office, under my tenure, has had minimal increases,” State’s Attorney Jamie Dykes said. “I do not make this ask lightly. I am a citizen of this county, and I understand the cost. Our times now are different than ever before.”

In February, the state’s attorney’s office began the process of providing disclosures in every criminal case that was charged by the Salisbury Police Department or that contained evidence that is or was being held in the custody of the police department from April 22, 1997 to Feb. 7, 2020 after determining evidence stored in the department’s property storage facilities may have been compromised.

The Salisbury Police Department contacted the state’s attorney’s office on Feb. 6 regarding a potential theft committed by a civilian employee assigned to its property storage facilities. As a result of a subsequent briefing, the state’s attorney’s office – believing the integrity of the facilities to be compromised – contacted the Office of the State’s Attorney and the Office of the Attorney General.

A full investigation by outside law enforcement agencies is now underway in that potential breach.

The police department, however, is facing another unrelated investigation after the Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office discovered a memo from 2011 alleging three police officers from the Salisbury Police Department may have failed to disclose information and evidence in a criminal case that has since been closed.

As a result of that discovery, three police officers and a Wicomico County prosecutor have been placed on leave pending an internal investigation.

Deputy State’s Attorney Bill McDermott told the county council last month defense attorneys may now file motions to reopen cases as a result of the two investigations, adding to the caseloads already being handled by prosecutors in the state’s attorney’s office.

To that end, the agency made a request for three new positions through emergency legislation. In a second reading and public hearing Tuesday, McDermott said the need for the three new positions was immediate.

“We’re asking for resources that are in the interest of justice,” he said. “While some dangerous people may be released, we’re also talking about an integral review of those cases in which perhaps defendants were entitled to things they didn’t receive … We’re talking about preserving our justice system as a whole, which is in the interest of the welfare and safety of the county.”

Council Attorney Robert Taylor proposed the emergency legislation add language acknowledging the temporary nature of the three new positions. Dykes, however, argued the proposed amendment was untenable.

“We must have high-quality candidates, and the only way that we get high-quality candidates is some expectation that their duty will continue …,” she said. “The idea is to restore confidence back into the system, and I cannot do that with no guarantee of future employment for these people.”

While she acknowledged the three positions were being added temporarily to handle the workload of the two investigations, Dykes said it could take years for all the cases to be retried.

“These cases that will be retried are violent felonies that are going to take months to prepare for, days to try, and the number is in the hundreds,” she said.

Councilman John Cannon agreed, saying, “I don’t see where it has to be established as temporary … They’ll be coming before the council every year. At that point in time, the council can decide whether this is going to be a temporary position or not.”

The council voted unanimously to amendments that would specify the reasoning for the emergency legislation and clarify the position titles and pay grades. With no further discussion, the council then voted 6-1, with McCain opposed, to add the three positions.

McCain argued the emergency legislation was not needed if the positions were not defined as temporary.

“What everyone is saying is we are going to do a permanent funding of these positions for a temporary situation,” he said. “That’s mixing apples and oranges. It’s got to be one or the other. It’s either got to be this legislation with amendments or it’s simply not emergency legislation and we just add these positions as part of the budget process.”

Cannon disagreed.

“The purpose of adding this as emergency legislation is because they want to begin immediately with the investigations,” he said. “That’s why this is emergency legislation.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.