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Justice

State Not Seeking Jail Time for Police Chief Charged With Falsifying Hiring Docs

State Prosecutor Charlton T. Howard III. File photo

Maryland’s new state prosecutor, Charlton T. Howard III, is not seeking jail time for a former Eastern Shore police chief charged with falsifying a hiring application for an expelled Dover, Del., police officer, the ex-chief’s attorney said.

The officer, Thomas Webster IV, was the first to respond to a call involving Anton Black, an African American teen who died in police custody September 2018.

Instead, it is expected that former Greensboro Police chief Michael Petyo will enter a guilty plea when he comes before a judge in Caroline County later this month.

“The judge could theoretically incarcerate [Petyo], although I believe that the state prosecutor is recommending no incarceration,” the attorney, Stephen R. Tully, said in an interview.

In a phone interview late last week, Howard, who was recently appointed state prosecutor by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), said no matter what Tully contends, nothing has been decided yet.

“I want to be as transparent as possible, but I cannot comment on a pending court matter because I don’t know how it’s all going to turn out,” Howard said.

Caroline County Circuit Court Judge Jonathan G. Newell recused himself from the case in an initial court hearing Dec. 18.

“I’m not particularly inclined to preside over a plea and sentencing myself in this case,” Newell said, according to an audio transcript of the hearing. “That’s been my practice . . . involving other chiefs of police, people I work with, just to avoid any appearance of impropriety.”

A judge from outside the county will be assigned to preside at Petyo’s sentencing.

Although Petyo has not worked in Caroline County since January 2019, he was charged in November with misconduct in office for making “several” factual misrepresentations in an application for police certification, which he filed on behalf of Webster.

Webster was seeking employment in Maryland after he agreed in 2016 to not pursue work again as a law enforcement officer in Delaware, a neighboring jurisdiction, following a highly publicized case in which Webster was on trial for assaulting an African-American man in his custody.

Petyo said the certification application for Webster included all relevant personnel information, including 2015 trial documents, but he acknowledged 29 “use-of-force” reports were not part of the package he turned over to state officials.

Use-of-force reports are meant to show all incidents involving a police officer’s use of force on suspects.

Petyo resigned from the Greensboro Police Department in early 2019 after pushback from Black’s family and community members who accused the police chief of mishandling the investigation over Black’s officer-involved death.

Allegations were also made by the Black family legal team that the body camera footage worn by Webster was altered by law enforcement officials and that Petyo may have been involved. Attorneys representing Black’s family, including former state legislator Timothy Maloney of Joseph, Greenwald and Laake, have declined to comment on the case.

The charge against Petyo is a misdemeanor, but because it is a common law offense there are no state sentencing guidelines on the books in Maryland.

Tully said the judge has the discretion to give any sentence, as long as it is not cruel and unusual.

The next hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Jan. 17 in the Caroline County Circuit Court in Denton.

“The judge could grant probation before judgment which means it would not be a conviction or the judge could decide incarceration is appropriate,” Tully said. “That’s the way the Maryland state system works.”

Glynis Kazanjian is a freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected]

For articles related to the Anton Black officer-involved death investigation click here.