Earlier today Lt. Woodward of the Hagerstown State Police barracks (Barrack O on their website!) met with a group of citizens filling the Sharpsburg Townhall and wanting answers about how the operation to serve a simple search warrant turned into a military-style operation that closed down Mills Road outside the rural town for hours on November 29th. (For a photo of Woodward, see this article from the Hagerstown Herald Mail as he shows off their new $11 plus million super secure facility.)
Editors note: For new readers, visit this post to catch up on the Sharpsburg SWAT.
Near the end of the meeting, moderator and Mills Rd. resident, Tim Franquist, summarized the general mood of the audience. ‘Not only was Terry Porter violated, but we feel violated.’
I don’t know about the rest of you who were there, but I have to admit I came away with more questions then answers. For the sake of time. Here are some bullet-points of what we learned and some of my additional questions.
~ The investigation of 46-year-old Terry Porter began in early November when an as yet to be identified tipster called the Maryland State Police and said Porter was crazy and had guns. Woodward did not say there were any other ‘tips’ other than this one. Of course we all want to know if they investigated the tipster!
Did Woodward say the tip came in on November 6th, election day??? hmmm
~ Woodward said an investigation was conducted and it was learned that Porter had a previous felony conviction and couldn’t own guns.
~ The investigation was not conducted from the Hagerstown Barracks but from the MD State Police Investigative Unit presumably in Pikesville.
~ At some point during the month, undercover officers went to Porter’s property pretending to solicit his welding services and engaged him in an apparently far-ranging discussion about protecting ones property (Porter admitted he had guns) and how Porter felt about the Presidential election. We are told Porter told them how he planned to protect his family if a crisis should occur.
~ Several times during the two hour meeting today, Woodward indicated that it was that conversation that caused the police to prepare for a certain type of operation. In other words, he was blaming Porter for the actions they subsequently took. We never did get a good answer as to why a “no knock search warrant” was obtained. Nor did we get an answer about why the hurry? Porter had never threatened anyone.
~ Woodward said he was not included in any of the investigation and was only alerted 1/2 an hour before the search warrant was going to be served.
~ The question arose about when Washington County Sheriff Doug Mullendore was notified. If you recall, Mullendore told the Hagerstown Herald Mail that he was out of the loop on this one (see my post here). Woodward said he personally called Mullendore, but it would have had to have been after the episode had begun on Mills Rd.
~ Residents came back to this issue again and again with complaints about why our elected Sheriff was not informed sooner. Woodward repeated several times, and I thought rather defensively, that it was imperative not to jeopardize the investigation by someone inadvertently running their mouths to someone. In fact, I think both Woodward and Mullendore should be highly offended that they were left out of the “tactical” planning for this operation.
~ Now this gets really interesting. Woodward said that when officers first arrived near Mr. Porter’s property on the morning of the 29th, they observed him in his (welding) shop, but made no move to serve the search warrant. Instead they waited until he went back into his house (for who knows what reason) then moved in and broke the door down and threw in a flash grenade. They didn’t find Porter, but they believed he was in the basement. Instead of going into the basement (fearing for their own safety), they called in the big guns (jeopardizing lots more peoples’ safety!)
Remember at this point in the day they had no arrest warrant for Porter (there could be no manhunt!). They had already found some guns on the upper level of the house. Since they had decided not to enter the basement to search for more guns, they had no need to even stay around all afternoon or to call in reinforcements. I think they were on really shaky legal ground at this point!
~ It is not clear who made the “tactical” decision to call the Washington County Special Response Team (SWAT team) and the FBI, but get this! Woodward said both were training somewhere nearby. What a lucky coincidence! And, they swooped in scaring the residents to death and setting up a “staging area” on the Antietam National Battlefield. Woodward said he didn’t think ATF was present.
~ Questioners in the audience repeatedly asked Woodward why the investigation was so superficial and investigators never sought to talk to people locally about Porter’s good character. Apparently several police officers live in the community and know Porter and could have been quietly asked about him. Woodward got testy again about this because he said not jeopardizing the investigation was paramount. Of course, his superiors were so secretive they apparently didn’t include Woodward either.
~ Several audience members said that Mr. Porter had a daily routine that involved getting coffee at a nearby gas station. It was suggested that an officer could have met him over coffee, making “peaceful contact,” and served the warrant while a couple of other officers went to the home to do the search. And, along these same lines, again, everyone wanted to know why on earth if they saw Porter in his welding shop that morning, why didn’t they serve him then and instead wait until he went into a house that they suspected was somehow fortified. It makes no sense, unless they were just completely incompetent.
~ One neighbor of the Porters also told the gathering today that Mrs. Porter was called by police to alert her that this operation was on-going and the neighbor said she (a frightened Mrs. Porter) tried to return home to try to calm things down and the police refused to let her through the barricaded road.
~ And, as for the cost of all this? Woodward said it “may not be tracked.” But, you can be sure it cost tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands!) of your tax dollars.
Well, this is getting long, and if you’ve made it this far good for you!
It is not over though….there is more to come. A hardcore group of patriotic citizens aren’t going to let it go. In my view if this is a simple screw-up by the Maryland State Police the sooner they apologize for their over-the-top response the better. Mr. Porter will have his day in court and our legal system will decide his fate, but faith in the Maryland State Police has been shaken and they have work to do to gain the trust of many in this community.
After all, as one participant said near the end of the meeting: “This is America. This isn’t Russia!”
Additions? Corrections? Please let me know!