By Ken Rossignol
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
LEONARDTOWN, MD. – There are now two less St. Mary’s County Maryland Sheriff’s walking the earth.
Sheriff Wayne L. Pettit, who defeated incumbent Sheriff Joe Lee Somerville in the Democratic Primary in 1982 and won reelection twice more in 1986 and 1990 died on Nov. 21, 2014 and Sheriff Ben Burroughs who was elected in 1966 and served one term before being defeated by the late Sheriff Larry Williams in the Democratic Primary in 1970, died on Jan. 2, 2015.
Those who have followed since Sheriff Burroughs held office have included both major political parties and scandals.
Sheriff Williams was defeated in 1974 by Sheriff George Sanger, who committed suicide in 1976 and the rest of his term was filled by Sheriff Joe Lee Somerville who was appointed by Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel.
Sheriff Somerville won the election in 1978 to become the first black Sheriff in Maryland. Somerville had trouble controlling his deputies which led to his defeat. Pettit, a retired State Police Barrack Commander was able to gain support from the Board of Commissioners for expanding the Sheriff’s Department and doubling the size of the agency by implementing badly needed professionalism.
Under Pettit, the agency went from a collection of town clowns and politically appointed ‘Good Old Boys’ to a major transformation of modern law officers given training and held to high standards. For his first two four-year terms, Pettit raised the agency to levels which enjoyed strong public support. In his final term he handed the control of the department over to three men who fit the mold of the agency he had been trying to wean it away from. Pettit appointed Greg Copado as the Captain and the two division commanders were Richard Voorhaar and Philip Cooper – all three of whom were the old-style crony deputy that ill served the public.
Following Sheriff Pettit was Republican Sheriff Richard Voorhaar who served from 1994 to 2002. Sheriff Voorhaar won the General Election in 1994 over Democrat candidate Phil Cooper.
Voorhaar ran the agency with smoke and mirrors and once appeared before the Commissioners demanding to be able to flout nepotism laws and hire his own son as a deputy. Fortunately for his son, the Board refused to allow Voorhaar to hire him and he went on to Charles County to lead a successful career as an officer.
Sheriff Voorhaar faced low morale in the agency as he gradually turned it back to the old days of political hiring and special cliques of rogue deputies doing what they pleased. At one point when a Sheriff’s picnic was scheduled and no one seemed eager to attend, he and Capt. Jamie Raley issued written orders instructed all personnel to attend or face having to provide written detailed reports explaining their absence. A deputy was prosecuted for assault on a boy that he knocked unconscious when the kid’s parent asked for some help to convince him that smoking pot was evil. The boy was taken to the hospital and after anger management classes the assault charge was dropped and the tough guy deputy was – of course – promoted as a division commander.
Two deputies were involved in a public barroom brawl in Solomon’s while others sparred at the annual Sheriffs Christmas party over a love triangle between deputies and one of their wives.
Sheriff Voorhaar decided not to run again in 2002 when a major scandal involving his hand-picked Assistant Sheriff Capt. Steven Doolan erupted. The Loot Scandal, as it became known, involved a tractor trailer load of stolen property which had been seized from drug dealer Wendell Ford in a search warrant raid and then was stolen by the deputies and family and friends of Capt. Doolan. While Voorhaar demoted Doolan, he never arrested him. The scandal was left to brew for his successor.
In addition to the Loot Scandal, Sheriff Voorhaar helped fund and participated in an effort guided by him and States Attorney Richard Fritz which included Doolan and five other deputies, to censor the news on Election Day. The two politicians and the deputies swept the county of all available copies of the Election Day issue of ST. MARY’S TODAY newspaper to prevent voters from reading critical articles about them prior to voting. The result was a landmark First Amendment decision (Rossignol v Voorhaar) by the United States Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit in favor of the newspaper citing the actions of Sheriff Voorhaar, Fritz and the deputies to have violated the constitutional rights of both the publisher and the readers of ST. MARY’S TODAY.
The next man elected Sheriff – there has never been a woman elected Sheriff in St. Mary’s County, Md. – was Sheriff David Zylak. Sheriff Zylak attempted to win a second term but was soundly defeated by Sheriff Tim Cameron in 2006. Contributing to that defeat was when Zylak continued to allow the disgraced Doolan to work as a duty officer after being demoted again and then to retire, increasing the call for a change in leadership. Sheriff Cameron won reelection in 2010 and 2014 when he ran unopposed.
While the agency has made great strides under Cameron, the Keystone Cops persona will be difficult to eradicate. In 2014, Sheriff Cameron issued a press release saying he was “mortified” to learn that his deputies, when conducting training sessions with automatic weapons on a farm, had rained down their gunfire on homes in Wildewood subdivision with some bullets landing just feet from an infant in a crib. Also in 2014, Sheriff Cameron and the county government responded to a Public Information Act request by THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY for salary and overtime information data by also releasing the Social Security numbers for over 300 employees of the Sheriff’s Department – deputies, detectives, jailors, clerks and even that of the Sheriff.
Sheriff Cameron has never come clean with the public with an explanation as to why his deputies were shooting up a residential neighborhood. Most residents thought that was the job of criminals.
Sheriff Pettit was defeated in 1994 in the Democratic Primary when he made a run for the State Senate. David Densford, now a Circuit Court Judge, former Delegate John William Quade and Pettit all lost the Democratic Primary to Sen. Roy Dyson who went on to clobber former Commissioner President James Manning McKay in the General Election.
Sheriff Burroughs was widely criticized for an incident involving his physical treatment of a young man at a bar fight in Callaway and was defeated for reelection. He was a successful developer and bail bondsman and owner of the Farmers Market in Charlotte Hall.
Obituary for Sheriff Ben Burroughs
Benjamin H. Burroughs, Jr., 81, of Mechanicsville, MD passed away on January 2nd. A lifelong St. Mary’s County resident, he is survived by his children: Jerry S. Burroughs of California; Michael (Heidi) L. Burroughs of Mechanicsville; Anne (Tom) B. Wetzler of Baltimore; and Mark D. Burroughs of Leonardtown. He was preceded in death by his wife, Joan Hewitt Burroughs and son, Henry P. Burroughs. He is also survived by his six grandchildren; brothers Thomas P. Burroughs and Philip C. Burroughs, Sr.; and many other relatives.
Mr. Burroughs was born in Leonardtown, MD on July 25, 1933 to Benjamin H., Sr. and Louise Burroughs. He was predeceased by his brother Edward S. Burroughs, Sr.
Mr. Burroughs once stated that work was his hobby. This was evident in the many jobs he held over the years (several at the same time) including paper boy, Fuller Brush salesman, ice delivery man, grocery store clerk, oil truck driver, insurance salesman, trash truck owner, St. Mary’s County Sheriff, land developer, bail bondsman, private investigator, and owner of the Farmer’s Market and Auction in Charlotte Hall among other businesses. He also enjoyed farming, raising cattle, owning race horses, and spending time with family at his river cottage in Sandgates.
Mr. Burroughs provided business and financial advice to hundreds of people and loved to have visitors to his home to talk about mortgages, politics, legal matters, and many other things. He also donated the use of his property for events organized by the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Amish for livestock auctions, the Southern Knights, and numerous school groups.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to All Faith Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 24, Charlotte Hall, MD, 20622.