The Maryland State Prosecutor’s Office has charged a former Greensboro police chief with misconduct in office for misrepresenting qualifications of a town police officer who later was involved in the Anton Black death investigation.
Acting State Prosecutor Kelly B. Madigan announced the charges Thursday against former Greensboro Police chief Michael Petyo.
In a news release, Madigan said Petyo made factual misrepresentations in a police hiring application filed with the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission, which certifies police officers in Maryland.
Petyo completed paperwork for Thomas Webster IV, a former Dover, Del., police officer, who joined the Greensboro force in early 2018. Webster came to Maryland after losing his job in Delaware in 2016 following a legal settlement involving second-degree assault charges against an African-American man in his custody — though Webster was found not guilty in a court case.
In early February, Maryland Matters contacted the stage agency responsible for overseeing the police certification process to report that some of Webster’s prior personnel disciplinary records may not have been included in his police application, which Petyo signed off on in 2017. Specifically, it appeared 29 use-of-force documents were excluded from the application.
As a result, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services opened an investigation. In March, Petyo told Maryland Matters state officials had all “pertinent” internal affairs files when they approved his department’s decision to hire Webster. But the state agency disagreed.
Webster lost his Maryland police certification in late July.
“The Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission relies on honest representations from chiefs to ensure that people who are certified meet the requirements for certification,” Madigan said in a statement. “We must hold our law enforcement supervisors to the highest standard and misrepresentations in the certification process cannot be tolerated.”
Black, 19, died Sept. 15, 2018 during a struggle involving Webster, two off-duty police officers and a civilian at the foot of the front door of his mother’s home in Greensboro. Webster responded to a possible child abduction complaint involving Black. The child turned out to be Black’s relative. At the time Black was suffering a mental health episode.
Petyo resigned as chief in January after pressure from the community for not placing Webster on administrative duty until four months after Black’s death. Peyto, who then went to work for a police department in Delaware, could not be reached for comment for this article.
The three police officers involved in Black’s death were cleared of any wrongdoing both criminally and administratively. But the Black family may still file a civil lawsuit against the officers and their agencies.
Petyo could face prison time for the misconduct-in-office charge, which is categorized as a common-law misdemeanor offense, Madigan said in a phone interview late Thursday. There are no specific penalties in Maryland criminal law codified or otherwise related to the charge, but the punishment may not be cruel or unusual, she said.
Petyo will be summoned to the Caroline County Circuit Court for an initial appearance, probably within the next 30 days, Madigan said. Petyo, as a defendant, can enter a plea of not guilty and request a trial by jury or a court trial, which would allow a judge to rule on the charges. He can also plead guilty.
Glynis Kazanjian is a freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected]