Fruitland Police chief faces DUI charges

Fruitland Police Chief Michael Phillips, on paid administrative leave after being charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and driving while impaired, has requested a trial.

His lawyer, Attorney John K. Phoebus, said this week the trial will probably be in one to one and one-half months. Somerset County’s state’s attorney’s office might ask that a special prosecutor be brought to the county, because the incident has been widely publicized, he said.

The location of the trial won’t be changed. Instead, the prosecutor will go to the Somerset County Courthouse, he said.

Phoebus said he didn’t know if asking for a trial for alcohol-related charges is unusual, but that Phillips, like any citizen, has a right to request a trial.

He said Phillips asked the Fruitland Town Council, governing body to the population of about 4,900 residents in the town south of Salisbury, to put him on paid administrative leave because that’s the policy for all officers and he wanted no special treatment.

Phoebus wouldn’t discuss Phillips’ reaction to being arrested or elaborate about whether his client expressed remorse or concern after the incident. He said he wasn’t at liberty to discuss the matter.

A woman who answered the telephone at the police department would not say who will lead the police force in Phillips’ absence. She referred all calls to City Manager John Psota.

Psota did not return calls, but he has said in the past that he cannot discuss personnel matters such as this one.

Phoebus, in a prepared statement sent to local media, said Phillip’s voluntary action of requesting to be placed on administrative leave “should not be construed as an admission of wrongdoing by him.”

“He is presumed innocent of all of charges against him and has confidence in our judicial system that this matter will be resolved both fairly and favorably.

“Because of the pending trial, Chief Phillips will have no further comment on these charges,” Phoebus stated.

Phillips will remain on leave “until charges against him in Somerset County are resolved,” Phoebus said.

The 47-year-old police chief, who lives in Salisbury, was charged the evening of Sunday, June 29, near Princess Anne. He was off duty when his personal car was pulled over, Phoebus said.

“Chief Phillips was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and driving while impaired. He was issued traffic citations by a deputy of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department.

“He was operating a personal vehicle, was unarmed, not in uniform and was off-duty. A trial date will be scheduled in the District Court for Somerset County,” Phoebus’ wrote in a prepared statement sent to local media.

He said Phillips had no prior charges.

Ronnie Howard, chief deputy at the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office, the agency that charged him, couldn’t be reached for comment.

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