CBSN

Top cop in Pa. caught taking down signs critical of him

Last Updated Mar 20, 2015 3:04 PM EDT

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The acting head of the state police, caught on video taking down two roadside signs critical of him, apologized on Thursday after his actions sparked a misdemeanor theft investigation by local authorities.

The message on the signs about Col. Marcus Brown - "Marcus Brown didn't earn it!" and "Marcus Brown don't wear it!" - revolve around his decision to wear the Pennsylvania State Police uniform, rather than plainclothes, while on the job. Some retired state troopers have publicly criticized Brown for wearing the uniform because he didn't attend the State Police Academy or come up through the department's ranks.

Brown, a 25-year law enforcement veteran who still faces a confirmation process in the state Senate, defended himself, saying his family's privacy had been invaded after he endured derogatory and public criticism.

"It is one thing to attack me, but it finally culminated with an individual finding out where I live, where my children get on the bus, my route of travel, the time I leave my home, putting up signs attacking me, and recording me from afar," Brown said in a statement. "And yesterday after all of this, I made a mistake and an error in judgment."

He said his actions didn't reflect well on himself or the state police and he regretted that.

On Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf said that he still supports Brown, although his nomination appears to be in deep trouble.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman called Wolf earlier Friday to advise him to withdraw Brown's nomination, a top aide said. The aide, chief counsel David Thomas, said Corman and many Republican senators believe the incident calls into question Brown's judgment and ability to handle controversy and difficult situations within the bounds of the law.

However, the Democratic governor told reporters in Philadelphia that Brown is qualified and did the right thing by apologizing.

"He was acting as a father and he was upset with what he saw, and he's apologized," Wolf said.

Even if the Senate rejects his nomination, Brown could continue to run the agency as its acting commissioner, Senate lawyers said.

Hampden Township police Chief Steven Junkin said his department is investigating Brown's removal of the signs from along a road near his neighborhood Wednesday morning.

The signs were posted by a man who then apparently captured video of Brown removing them, Junkin said. It's unclear whether the signs were placed on township or private property, he said.

Regardless, the investigation is about "the ability of someone to remove a sign, particularly one that has First Amendment-type implications," Junkin said.

Brown, 50, became the acting commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police when Wolf took office in January. He heads one of the nation's largest police forces, with about 6,000 troopers and civilian employees and a $1 billion annual budget.

Brown succeeded Frank Noonan, who also was an outsider to an agency that had long been accustomed to its commissioners rising through the ranks and wearing the uniform. Noonan, a career investigator for the FBI and the attorney general's office, wore a business suit to the office. Brown said he wears the uniform out of respect for his colleagues and to help represent the state police.

Junkin, who became the township's police chief last year after a 25-year career in the state police, said his department will deliver its report on Brown to the Cumberland County district attorney's office, which will decide whether to file a charge.

When Wolf announced Brown would be his nominee, he said Brown was highly capable and well respected and had "the experience and vision necessary."

Brown was promoted to superintendent of the Maryland state police in 2011 after spending most of his law enforcement career in the Baltimore police department, where he rose to second-in-command. He left the department in 2007 to become the Maryland Transportation Authority police chief.

Brown is a Penn State grad who also has a law degree from the University of Baltimore.