The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland filed a lawsuit challenging the practice as an unconstitutional violation of free speech and illegal under Maryland's public transparency through "gag orders" that silence victims of police abuse as a condition of resolving their cases.
A 2014 case in which four Salisbury University students sued the city of Salisbury and one officer with the Salisbury Police Department (SPD), alleging police brutality, excessive force, illegal seizure, detention and arrest. The lawsuit also alleged that SPD personnel confiscated surveillance footage and creative fictional narratives to cover up what happened. In 2015, the court concluded that the plaintiffs sufficiently proved illegal patterns and practices by the SPD to allow the case to move forward. In 2016, the case was settled, but all details of the settlement, including the amount of the award, were withheld from the press and public. When the ACLU of Maryland and the Real News Network filed a Maryland Public Information Act request seeking documents about the settlement, the City rebuffed the request, claiming that neither it nor the SPD had any documentation regarding the settlement. This lack of transparency has caused at least one of the student plaintiffs to question whether SPD was holding its officers accountable for their actions, though he is silenced by the gag order that governs the settlement and risks losing his award if he speaks out.