Sheriff’s office chief of staff says claims on OP podcast don’t reflect facts of case
By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(Oct. 19, 2023) Despite assertions on a local podcast that working firearms and evidence were not kept in the Ocean Pines Police Department storage shed that was broken into last December, that was not the case, Lt. Brian Cardamone, the chief of staff of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office said this week.
Speaking with the approval of Sheriff Matt Crisafulli, Cardamone told the Bayside Gazette he wanted to clear up misinformation presented during two interviews conducted by Ocean Pines ROC (ROC: Residents Oversight Community) podcast earlier this month with Chris Tarr, a former Ocean Pines police officer, and the former Ocean Pines Police Chief Leo Ehrisman.
During those sessions, the two men talked about the Dec. 17 burglary of the shed, the investigations that followed, and their departures from the department. Ehrisman was placed on administrative leave on Jan. 1, and retired from the department on June 8.
Cardamone was brought in as the department’s acting chief of police on Dec. 31 and served through March 31 while Ehrisman was on paid leave pending investigations into the break-in and allegations of professional misconduct against Ehrisman.
Cardamone said his goal during this interim was not to run the department but to facilitate the investigations for both the sheriff’s office and the Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor.
The sheriff’s offices’ investigation into the burglary is still open as is the investigation into the former chief’s possible misconduct by the Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor, Cardamone said, thus limiting his ability to comment on those aspects of the situation.
According to Cardamone, the shed incident was brought to the attention of the Ocean Pines police by a resident who said her child had informed her that teenagers had broken into it.
Police then went to inspect the building, which they said appeared to have been broken into. Ehrisman, who was on medical leave at the time, was told of the burglary by his officers, who also said the shed contained numerous firearms. Ehrisman reportedly directed the officers to take all property from the shed and put it in a cell block in the department’s lockup.
When two weeks passed without an investigation by the police, an Ocean Pines employee reported the situation to the sheriff’s office, the Maryland State Police, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, Cardamone said. That complaint, he added, triggered the investigation by the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and state prosecutor’s office.
During the podcast by ROC BUZZ, Ehrisman said the shed contained nothing related to criminal investigations.
“Many statements that they made in those interviews are factually untrue,” Cardamone said this week. “Particularly about the contents of the shed. The overwhelming majority of the items in the shed were evidentiary property, including firearms associated with criminal investigations.”
He said in addition to the firearms, the shed contained computers, and old evidence related to a rape case. Cardamone did point out there is no evidence to suggest that Ehrisman or any other department employees had any involvement in the burglary, nor was any evidence found in the shed linked to current investigations.
But as for the presence or absence of firearms, Cardamone said sheriff’s office detectives found that Ocean Pines officers transferred 28 handguns and 29 long guns from the shed to the cell.
“Through the evidence gathered in our investigation we believe that no firearms were taken … by the suspects and all firearms are accounted for,” Cardamone said.
In addition, while Ehrisman said during the podcast that the shed had only existed for a couple of years, Cardamone said it had been there since the 1980s. Ehrisman also said that he did not know what was in the shed and had never been in it.
“That is his responsibility,” Cardamone countered. “He is supposed to know what is in there, and, in fact, our investigation revealed that the chief knew exactly what was in the shed because the responding officers told him.”
Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office also investigated the possibility that Tarr and former department officer, Kyle Dalton, inappropriately kept firearms that were turned over by a resident to the department.
Cardamone said a resident wanted to hand over the guns to the department for “safe keeping,” because they did not want the firearms in their house.
Tarr and Ehrisman picked up four firearms and ammunition from the resident, according to Cardamone. He said the firearms were turned over to the department’s property and evidence management personnel for storage, with a property sheet completed by Tarr.
The department policy in such instances, Cardamone said, is that items turned over to police stay with the property sheet. But during an inventory conducted by the sheriff’s office, deputies found that three of the four firearms were missing.
Tarr admitted that he had a shotgun, according to Cardamone, but said he did not know where the other guns were.
Later, when sheriff’s office detectives went to his house, Tarr told them that Dalton had the other gun in Delaware. The guns from both were later retrieved by the sheriff’s office.
After an extensive search of the facility, the third firearm was located by detectives on the floor under a pile of uniforms in the armory.
The property sheet that was supposed to remain with the weapons in storage did not and Tarr never documented that the guns were removed from property and evidence, Cardamone said. In addition, there was no record of where the guns were, or who possessed them.
This “violates all law enforcement best practices as well as OPPD policy regarding the handling of property and since the act was intentional, it is considered misconduct by the involved officers,” Cardamone said.
According to the podcast, Tarr and Dalton had taken the guns to a firing range. Cardamone said when investigators learned of this, and that they had also fired all the ammunition the resident had turned over to the police, Tarr and Dalton came under criminal investigation by the state prosecutor.
“This is why Chris Tarr was suspended,” Cardamone said. “Dalton would have been suspended too if he was still an employee.”
Cardamone said Tarr’s emergency suspension remained in effect until the prosecutor’s office decided not to file charges.
“I explained all of this to Tarr in detail when he was suspended,” Cardamone said.
In mid-May, the prosecutor’s office notified Cardamone there would be no criminal charges against Tarr, who was then returned to full duty. He has since left the police department of his own accord.
Although Cardamone could not discuss the personnel matters of the Ocean Pines department, he said the circumstances of employees’ actions were evaluated, and steps have been taken to ensure that something like this does not happen in the future.
Cardamone said he was confused by Tarr and Ehrisman’s comments on the podcast about their suspensions. He said both officers were clearly told of the investigation and were both represented by counsel. Cardamone said he was in regular contact with their attorneys, as were Ocean Pines Association officials and the State Prosecutor’s Office.
“Ocean Pines general manager John Viola was put in a very difficult position, but made all of his decisions in the best interest of the Ocean Pines community and he deserves a lot of credit for his management of the situation,” Cardamone said.
Tarr and Ehrisman were represented by the Baltimore law firm Schlachman, Belsky, Weiner, and Davey, a previer law firm in Maryland that represents police.
Regarding Ehrisman, Cardamone said that as chief, he was the responsible party for anything that happened under his watch.
“If for no other reason than for the safety of the Ocean Pines community, he [Ehrisman] should have instructed officers to immediately and aggressively investigate the shed burglary,” Cardamone said. “Had he simply done this, the initial misconduct complaint would not have been made, and these investigations would not have been initiated.”
He noted that since the burglary, the sheriff’s office brought Ocean Pines police employees to their offices to conduct training on proper submission, documentation and processing of property and evidence to ensure that proper procedures were followed in the future.
Cardamone said the new chief of police, Tim Robinson, “is an honorable professional and will right the ship.” He added that all the involved employees are no longer with the department and he believes the agency has come out in a good place.