Surveillance Controversy In Harford County: WJZ Obtains Documents With New Evidence
HARFORD COUNTY - Documents recently obtained by WJZ have shed new light on the ongoing wiretapping investigation surrounding Harford County Executive Bob Cassilly.
A complaint, filed by Republican County Councilman Aaron Penman, accuses the county executive of monitoring phone calls and email exchanges involving himself, the county sheriff, a former county executive, a local land-use attorney, and several "selected citizens."
The State Prosecutor's Office and the Harford County Sheriff's Office are investigating Penman's claims.
WJZ reports that new documents reveal a request by Cassilly's office to access government emails exchanged between Councilman Aaron Penman and several other notable county figures, including Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler and former County Executive Barry Glassman.
"It is true, and it's alarming," Penman told WJZ. "The executive mentioned that was a snapshot. Well, that email was a snapshot of my entire term in office."
Penman has alleged that the surveillance was a retaliatory move, following the councilman's claims that Cassilly shifted $7 million without the Harford County Council's consent to address emergency service costs.
Cassilly's office has described the allegations as "baseless and defamatory," adding that an "exhaustive internal investigation … disclosed no grounds" for the accusation.
Penman is urging Cassilly, a fellow Republican eight months into his term, and other implicated parties to temporarily step down from their roles.
In an interview with Maryland Matters, Andrew Alperstein, a Baltimore-based criminal defense lawyer, indicated the legal boundaries surrounding Cassilly's alleged surveillance might be ambiguous, given the need for clarity on the separation of powers within the county's governmental structure.
"An email that is on the server of an employer is not private from the employer; that is the answer," Alperstein said. "So, the only nuance here is because the legislative branch of Harford County's government is supposed to have independence, what does that mean in the context of criminal law? The answer is that it's probably not clear. If it's not clear, it's probably not going to be criminal because you have due process, and that requires you to be on notice of what's criminal activity here."
Last week, the Harford County Sheriff's Office issued a statement asserting that "if substantiated, this case is especially egregious, given that Maryland has some of the most extensive and rigorous wiretapping laws in the country."
Earlier this year, Cassilly was embroiled in a dispute with Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler over allocating funds for a sheriff's department training center.
Cassilly also made headlines for a county charter dispute regarding newly elected Harford County Council Member Jacob Bennett. The executive contended that Bennett's position as a public school teacher prevented him from serving on the council.
Bennett was blocked from voting for months, as he and his staff did not receive council emails, phone numbers, or paychecks. The dispute ultimately ended in the Maryland supreme court, which affirmed Bennett's seat on the council.
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