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Just the Facts

Mayor Orders Polygraph for Acting Police Commissioner

By Terrie Snyder | Posted 10/13/1999

Mayor Kurt Schmoke has ordered Col. John Gavrilis, acting commissioner of the Baltimore City Police Department, to take a polygraph exam in connection with an internal investigation of an Aug. 21 incident in which the colonel allegedly exceeded his authority to gain access to department crime-statistics files, according to sources familiar with the case.

Sources say the mayor ordered the test after Gavrilis failed to cooperate completely with detectives from the department's Internal Investigations Division (IID).

At the time of the initial incident, Gavrilis was commander of the police department's Criminal Investigation Bureau. He is the first of three colonels tapped by Schmoke to serve three-week terms as acting police commissioner until a new mayor is inaugurated on Dec. 8. Gavrilis became acting commissioner on Oct. 1, the day former chief Thomas Frazier resigned to take a job with the U.S. Justice Department.

Gavrilis did not respond to calls seeking comment. Through a spokesperson, Schmoke refused to comment on the investigation or the polygraph order, or whether the investigation could change Gavrilis' status as acting chief.

Gavrilis was scheduled to be polygraphed by Maryland State Police at the Golden Ring barracks in Baltimore County on Oct. 8, according to sources. He arrived at the barracks that morning, but fled without getting out of his car after spotting a City Paper reporter and photographer in the parking lot. It could not be determined if he subsequently took the polygraph exam.

Sources say Gavrilis went to police headquarters on Saturday, Aug. 21 with his daughter, called the security desk, and ordered the officer on duty to unlock a file room inside the Planning and Research Division, which at the time was outside his area of authority. The file room houses records that are kept for the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, the national register of how many crimes are committed and how many are solved across the country. The room was under the jurisdiction of Col. Margaret Patten, head of the Planning and Research Division, whom sources say Gavrilis would normally have to go through to enter the file room.

Once the officer on duty had opened the door, sources say, Gavrilis told him he could leave. The sources did not know why Gavrilis allegedly entered the file room, or what he did there. An IID official contacted by City Paper said the unit cannot comment on "an open investigation."

When questioned by other high-ranking officers the following Monday about why he went to the file room, sources say, Gavrilis responded that he had not gone to Planning and Research, but had asked the on-duty officer to open a room on another floor of the building. But sources say that the officer and a civilian police-department employee who answered Gavrilis' phone call requesting that the door be opened gave sworn statements to IID contradicting his assertion.

Patten, who did not return phone calls to her office seeking comment, had a previous run-in with Gavrilis over the release of police-department information. In early 1997, Patten was rumored to be providing information to City Council President Lawrence Bell and to member Martin O'Malley (D-3rd District), whose Legislative Investigations Committee was investigating discrimination within the department and efforts by police brass to keep tabs on officers who were protesting racial inequities in promotions and disciplinary actions. On Frazier's orders, according to sources, Gavrilis searched Patten's office. She was subsequently given a polygraph examination, which she passed, sources say.

At the time, Frazier had in place orders that any information requested by City Council members had to be routed through the department's Public Affairs Division—the same office that handles inquiries from the press. At a hearing chaired by O'Malley in March 1997, Frazier defended the policy, saying it wasn't designed to limit council members' access to information but to ensure that they got accurate information. Frazier testified that he had told his command staff at a retreat that "I need to know what you have told members of council." When O'Malley, referring to but not naming Patten, asked why Frazier had ordered a member of the command staff polygraphed, the commissioner refused to comment.

Sources say Patten has demanded that the probe of the Aug. 21 incident continue until it is determined why Gavrilis entered the file room in her division.

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