CARLISLE, Pa. — The acting commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police will not be charged for removing roadside signs near his suburban Harrisburg home that protested his decision to wear the trooper uniform, a county prosecutor said Thursday.
Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed said Col. Marcus Brown had no intent to commit theft. Rather, he had sought to keep the signs from being seen by his wife and children, Freed said.
Also, the signs planted in a public right of way by a former state police trooper were effectively abandoned property and in violation of a town ordinance, Freed said.
In any case, the retired trooper, Tony DeLuca, got what he wanted because he was more interested in testing Brown’s integrity, the prosecutor said.
“Simply put, he set the bait and Brown took it, hook, line and sinker,” Freed said.
Brown should have known better than to take the signs, Freed said, and DeLuca — who has claimed his free speech rights were violated by Brown’s removing them — should have known better than report a situation he created as a crime.
Freed’s decision wraps up a nearly two-month investigation into the signs’ removal that spurred calls by the troopers’ union and leaders of the Senate’s Republican majority for Gov. Tom Wolf to withdraw Brown’s nomination. Wolf refused, and reiterated this week that he continues to stand by Brown, saying the former Maryland state police superintendent is qualified for the job.
Wolf, a Democrat, took office in January and tapped Brown to lead the Pennsylvania State Police, one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies with about 6,000 personnel. The Republican-controlled Senate has made no move to confirm Brown’s nomination. No vote or hearing is scheduled, although Brown can continue to run the agency as its acting commissioner without Senate confirmation.
Brown, 50, has apologized for removing the signs, saying he made an error in judgment. But he also said he felt that his family was being watched, and that their privacy had been invaded.
On Thursday, DeLuca said he respected Freed’s decision, but maintained that the incident showed Brown’s true colors.
“Marcus Brown took the signs when no one was watching because he lacks integrity,” DeLuca said.
The incident — DeLuca captured it on video and gave the video to a Harrisburg TV station to broadcast — brought attention to a campaign by DeLuca and other former state troopers to scuttle Brown’s nomination.
The message on the signs — “Marcus Brown didn’t earn it!” and “Marcus Brown don’t wear it!” — revolve around Brown’s decision to wear the uniform, rather than plainclothes, while on the job. Some retired state troopers have publicly criticized Brown for wearing the uniform because he did not attend the State Police Academy, as every trooper must, or come up through the department’s ranks.
Brown said he wears the uniform out of respect for his colleagues and to help represent the state police.
But critics say his removing the signs underscores their broader belief that Brown lacks the integrity to lead the state police. Among other things, they question Brown’s notions of law enforcement. Last year, following turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Brown was quoted as saying at a conference of Maryland law enforcement officials that the militarization of police escalates civil disobedience.
Brown, who has pledged to increase the number of minorities in the troopers’ ranks, claimed to have received a racially charged note in his home mailbox a week after he removed the signs. Freed said he is still investigating the note, but has not identified a suspect.
The note said: “No (racial epithet) lover will wear my uniform.” It was signed “didnt-dont,” an apparent reference to the message on DeLuca’s signs.