CONTACT: Meredith Curtis, ACLU of Maryland, 410-889-8555; firstname.lastname@example.org
BALTIMORE - Blasting Anne Arundel County Police Chief James Teare for refusing to testify even under subpoena by the County Council, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is filing Maryland Public Information Act requests with the state Department of Public Safety and the Maryland State Police to learn whether individuals on Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold's "enemies list" were the subject of illegal searches in criminal history databases. The requests seek logs indicating whether any member of the County police department accessed criminal history information on a broad range of prominent County residents and former employees without legitimate cause.
"Even with media scrutiny, a public outcry, and County Council subpoena of County Police Chief Teare, we still know very little about Mr. Leopold's ‘enemies list,'" said ACLU of Maryland Legal Director Deborah Jeon. "Given Chief Teare's refusal to answer basic questions before the Council, it is all the more vital that the ACLU get complete responses to our information requests so we can learn the full story of what went on here, and hold officials accountable for their actions."
The MPIA request was sent to the Maryland Criminal Justice Information System Central Repository, an agency of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, and the Maryland State Police, which provides access to federal criminal history databases. It seeks information from logs that each agency is required to keep to determine whether Anne Arundel County Police Department personnel sought information on any of the ACLU's clients. The request notes that the Anne Arundel County Police have already admitted, in an earlier partial response to an ACLU MPIA request, that state criminal history databases were improperly consulted in compiling information on Leopold's perceived political enemies. The request also notes that that Chief Teare informed the Maryland State Police "that there was information in the files which possibly violates Anne Arundel County Police Department rules and regulations, as well as Federal and State law."
The ACLU also has filed additional public information requests with the County Executive's office and County Police Department on behalf of prominent individuals from Anne Arundel County who may have been targeted by County Executive John Leopold's political dragnet. The ACLU's latest Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) request was sent on behalf of Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen, Anne Arundel Police Sergeant Eric Scott, Delegate Don Dwyer, and former Leopold employee Laurie Garvey, who is a witness for the plaintiffs in a gender discrimination and wrongful termination suit against the County Executive.
Added Jeon: "We believe that the County Executive and Police Chief should not make people guess whether they were the subject of files improperly compiled by police and county employees. They both have an obligation to immediately review the files and inform the subjects directly of their existence, without waiting for an MPIA request from the ACLU."
The ACLU reacted strongly to Chief Teare's refusal to answer questions posed by the County Council on March 26. The organization argues that the obligation to refrain from disclosing the contents of a grand jury proceeding, if it is applicable to witnesses at all, is an obligation to refrain from doing precisely what Chief Teare has done, namely disclose what the Grand Jury asked him about. It is not an obligation or license to refuse to testify in response to a subpoena about what the Police Chief knows, saw, did, and did not do with respect to running the police department, without in any way referencing what he did or did not say to the Grand Jury, or what he was or was not asked in that forum.
Said David Rocah, a Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Maryland: "For the Chief of Police to refuse to answer important questions based on an invented ‘privilege' which cannot be asserted without violating the principle of confidentiality he claims to be obliged to protect, shows the absurdity of his position, and his disregard for the County Council and citizens of Anne Arundel County."
On March 20, the ACLU requested that the Maryland Criminal Justice Information System undertake an independent audit of Anne Arundel County's use of the CJIS and National Crime Information System databases to determine whether criminal history records were improperly accessed. The ACLU asked that results of that audit be publicly reported, and appropriate sanctions should be imposed on the police department if violations are found.
The ACLU remains concerned that the data compilation by county police regarding perceived political enemies violates the 2009 Freedom of Association and Assembly Protection Act, passed in the wake of the Maryland State Police surveillance scandal. That law restricts police from conducting investigations into activities protected by the First Amendment, unless conducted for a legitimate law enforcement purpose.