La Plata, MD – Former Charles County State’s Attorney Leonard C. Collins Jr. (pictured) was the first witness to take the stand in the ongoing civil jury trial between former Charles County Sheriff Rex Coffey and newly elected sheriff Troy Berry before visiting Judge Maureen Lamasney in Charles County Circuit Court Monday, Jan. 26.
Collins, an attorney for 30 years and former prosecutor in Charles County, said he loved working with the Charles County Sheriff’s Office.
“The people who comprised the rank and file of the Charles County Sheriff’s Office always tried to do the right thing,” Collins said.
When asked what the term “Brady’s Disclosure” referred to, Collins said it occurred in the 1960s when a defendant named Brady was prosecuted for murder and convicted when the prosecutor withheld information that another couple had admitted to the crime. The argument went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled prosecutors had to turn over information which could exonerate a defendant or lessen the penalty they would face if convicted despite the evidence.
“To withhold evidence is a violation of the canon of ethics,” Collins said.
Collins said he specifically wrote a letter in September 2008 to then Sheriff Coffey about an officer who had “testified untruthfully” in a case in Calvert County and was then hired by the Charles County Sheriff’s Office.
Collins wrote the sheriff again in September 2009, including a copy of his original letter, after he failed to receive a response.
“His [the officer’s] tenure in Calvert County ended after that happened,” Collins said. “Then the Charles County Sheriff’s Office hired him.”
“Did you have a conversation with Sheriff Coffey about this?” asked Berry’s attorney, Matthew M. Bryant.
“There was no meeting,” he said, adding that the officer remained on the force. In a later incident in Charles County, Collins said the officer in question left a convenience store with a soda without purchasing it.
“Berry told me there was an incident, I asked if he had video from the store,” he added. “He told me there was video. “After I saw the video I called Sheriff Coffey to tell him about this. I told him I had seen the video and read the field report. I told him he had to get rid of this guy. He told me maybe the officer had paid for the drink. At one point he said to me, ‘I hate it when officers eat cheese on their fellow officers.’ ”
Coffey’s attorney, Jason L. Levine, asked Collins during cross-examination if the evidence he gathered on the officer led to a conviction.
“He left the sheriff’s office and that was it,” Collins said.
Collins said that when Berry was demoted, he did not like his replacement because he had no experience in investigation.
The civil jury trial is expected to last three-to-five days.
Contact Joseph Norris at joe.norris@thebaynetcom