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THE NATION

Book on Sniper Case May Pit Police Chief Against Law

January 26, 2003|From Washington Post

To TV news viewers nationwide, Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Charles Moose was a sturdy, commanding presence in the whirl of a storm -- the tight-lipped, square-jawed lawman who was the public face of October's Washington-area sniper manhunt.

Now the crisis that made him a household name is offering the temptation of cash.

A New York literary agent who has been pitching the chief's story to publishers said Friday that Moose plans to announce Tuesday that a deal has been struck for a book and possibly a movie. The agent, David Vigliano, would not identify the buyer or disclose the price.

Yet there could be a glitch: Local officials have warned Moose that the deal, if he profits from it, could land him on the wrong side of Montgomery's strict ethics provisions.

The County Ethics Commission has barred police commanders from accepting even nominal fees, beyond expenses, for speaking publicly about the sniper shootings at law enforcement conferences. In doing so, the commission pointed to rules that prohibit a public official from "using the prestige of his or her office for personal gain" and from disclosing confidential information, which could include details of a police investigation.

But County Executive Douglas Duncan, who hired Moose in 1999, said he believes that the chief warrants an exception, given his central role in an investigation that riveted the nation.

"This is a special circumstance," Duncan said. "He's got a great story to tell America, and he should be able to do that. Yes, we've got some ethics issues to get through, but we'll look at anything we need to do to make it work."

If necessary, Duncan said, he would ask the County Council to authorize the deal.

Vigliano was reticent Friday about the impending deal but said the chief wants the book to be heavily "autobiographical and more than just his thoughts about the sniper case." One publisher who was approached by the agent described the project as "a blow-by-blow ticktock of the investigation, interspersed with [Moose's] personal story of growing up poor and rising to the position of police chief."

Moose did not return telephone calls seeking comment on the venture, and the ethics questions appear to have done nothing to slow his plans.

Editors at three major New York publishing houses, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were approached by Vigliano, whose client list includes Pope John Paul II (for a collection of prayer books), Monica S. Lewinsky's mother, actress Bo Derek and Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Shaquille O'Neal. The agent recently sold the unpublished journals of rock star Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide in 1994.

Several books are planned or in the works about the sniper shootings, which killed 10 people and wounded three while spreading fear and disruption throughout the Washington area for three weeks. One leading New York publishing executive who turned down Moose's proposal said Friday that, to his knowledge, only one publishing house expressed interest in the chief's story.

At least one other, Random House, turned down the project because it already had agreed to publish a book about the sniper shootings by reporters at the Washington Post.

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