Harford County’s top prosecutor, under fire from deputies union, makes complaints

Published on: July 13, 2022 at 6:00 am EDT

Albert J. Peisinger, Jr., State's Attorney, Harford County

Harford County’s first-term top prosecutor says he’s under coordinated attack from a fired former employee, the police union and a developer who his office prosecuted. But his opponent and union leaders say Albert Peisinger is off the mark in his claims, and that it further underscores why he’s lost the confidence of sheriff’s deputies.

While some cities have elected progressive prosecutors and police union support in such places has become a scarlet letter, conservative Harford County remains a place where politicians court law enforcement support. The sheriff’s deputies union’s political action committee has made more than $34,000 in transfers to candidates this election cycle, including both Republican candidates for county executive. And the union president himself, Aaron Penman, is a Republican candidate for county council.

In the state’s attorney’s race, the deputies union has thrown its full support behind challenger Alison Healey, who was fired in 2019 by Peisinger after she had supported his opponent. In mailers and video ads, the union has accused the state’s attorney’s office under Peisinger of “dropping solid cases, ineffective case preparation, and unsuccessful prosecution of critical cases” and said if Peisinger was a sheriff’s deputy he would be “fired for lack of integrity.”

Peisinger stands by his record and says a minority of the union is attacking him for political reasons.

“I have received many calls of support from our local law enforcement officers and I have the support of all of the chiefs of our local law enforcement agencies and Sheriff [Jeffrey] Gahler,” Peisinger said. Gahler has said he will not endorse in the race, but Peisinger noted comments in which Gahler expressed a positive working relationship.

In a ratcheting up of the feud, Peisinger told The Baltimore Banner that he has made complaints to the office of the state prosecutor and the state elections board over a campaign commercial the sheriff’s union’s political action committee produced in support of Healey. Peisinger says records show that in addition to contributing $4,350 for Healey, the PAC spent more than $25,000 to air a commercial in which Peisinger says Healey provides the voiceover.

That, he says, shows coordination between the union PAC and Healey. In Maryland, PACs can support any group, proposition, or candidate that they want, and can make independent expenditures on behalf of a candidate in excess of the $6,000 maximum contribution. But they can’t exceed that limit if they coordinate with the candidate.

Except the union says the ad was not done in coordination with Healey; the female voiceover is by Deputy First Class Amy Caviston, who confirmed her involvement to The Banner.

Healey also says the claim that she provided the voiceover is false. “This isn’t the first piece of misleading information that Mr. Peisinger has put out to voters and the general public,” Healey said. “Frankly, it’s completely defamatory.”

An ad also must have an authority line saying who paid for it. The deputy’s union commercial ends with the female voice saying the ad was paid for by “the men and women of Harford County law enforcement,” which is not an official entity, which Peisinger said caused him to complain to the state elections board.

But there is fine print on screen showing that three different law enforcement PACs in Harford paid for the ad and includes their treasurers, as required. Asked about his complaint, Peisinger replied that the words on screen were not large enough as required by law.

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The office of the state prosecutor said they cannot confirm or deny the existence of investigations. The state elections board also doesn’t comment on investigations.

Peisinger says a common bond between his opponents is developer Michael Euler. His office prosecuted Euler, 61, for a charge of climbing into a vehicle “with malicious intent” from 2019, a case that ended with Euler entering an Alford plea in December and receiving six months of probation before judgment. Neither he nor his attorney returned messages seeking comment.

While Euler made a $6,000 maximum contribution to Healey through one of his development entities, Aumar Village LLC, county permitting records show he also erected a Healey campaign headquarters trailer with a “Make Crime Illegal Again” sign on property he owns in downtown Bel Air, a $1,161 in-kind contribution to the Healey campaign, according to her campaign finance reports.

Reports list another $1,300 worth of in-kind contributions to Healey through other LLCs tied to him. Euler, through LLCs, contributed another $3,600 to Penman, the union president running for county council, for yard signs, food and outdoor space.

Euler is a prolific supporter of campaigns in Harford and beyond: Campaign finance records show that through at least five different LLCs, Euler has made more than $55,000 in campaign contributions since 2016.

David McDougall, a sheriff’s deputy who sits on the executive board for the union, says no wealthy interests are pulling their strings, nor is a small group of deputies misrepresenting the views of the broader membership. McDougall said deputies had been hearing a wide range of complaints about the state’s attorney’s office, and sought to have a meeting with Peisinger in the winter. McDougall says Peisinger demanded specifics, which they did not want to provide out of fear that deputies could be retaliated against.

“We reached out to him proactively to truly, honestly avoid all this. We didn’t want to get involved with where we’re at now,” McDougall said. “This isn’t good for anybody.”

There is no Democrat running in this year’s race for top prosecutor, meaning the race will be decided in next week’s primary.

Peisinger won election in 2018, succeeding Joseph Cassilly, who held the post for 36 years. Though a longtime Harford resident, Peisinger was an outsider to county law enforcement after having spent his career mostly as a narcotics prosecutor in Baltimore. He brought with him several prosecutors from Baltimore City, as well as a retired judge, Timothy Doory.

His campaign says he has “built strong relationships with our law enforcement partners, citizens, and community stakeholders to make the State’s Attorney’s Office in Harford County a model for other agencies and to continue to let criminals know that if you commit a crime in Harford County, you will be prosecuted.”

His Baltimore ties have been used against him. “I will fight to keep Baltimore City crime and their disastrous policies out of Harford County,” Healey’s website says.

Healey worked for more than 12 years in the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office, trying felonies and misdemeanors and supervising the domestic violence unit. Since 2019 she’s worked as a criminal defense attorney handling family law and DUIs, among other cases. Healey said she was encouraged to run by deputies concerned about how the prosecutors’ office was running.

“I care about the safety of this county,” she said in an interview. “I don’t see how we successful prosecute crime when our state’s attorney can’t have positive relationships.”

McDougall, for his part, said deputies will turn the page and work with whoever wins.

“We’re professional cops — we’re going to do our job and get the work done,” he said.

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