CONTACT: Meredith Curtis, ACLU of Maryland, 410-889-8555; firstname.lastname@example.org
BALTIMORE - Audio tapes of interviews with Executive Protection Officers (EPOs) for former Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold that have been released to the ACLU pursuant to the Maryland Public Information Act reveal police allegations that former County Police Chief James Teare played a direct role in Leopold's use of the county police force as his opposition research team. The tapes also reveal the existence of a dossier on Karla Hamner, a former Leopold employee who has a discrimination lawsuit pending against the County, despite the fact that the County has denied having such a document in its responses to the ACLU's public records requests. In a legal filing, the ACLU seeks to add Chief Teare as a defendant in the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) lawsuit, and opposes motions by the County and Leopold to dismiss the cases against them.
"Given the shameful series of events that has unfolded in Anne Arundel County over the past two years, one might have thought it could not get any worse," said ACLU Legal Director Deborah Jeon. "But now we hear from Leopold's Executive Protection Officers claims that all along Police Chief James Teare not only knew of Leopold's demands that the officers compile dossiers and conduct unlawful criminal background checks on innocent citizens, he was himself complicit in that activity."
In December, 2012, the ACLU filed a lawsuit under a provision of the MPIA that prohibits the creation, use, and dissemination of government records containing personal information about private citizens without an adequate governmental need, as well as under provisions of the law prohibiting wrongful withholding of public information. The lawsuit charges that information was improperly collected and retained on Leopold's perceived political rivals or enemies, and that information was improperly withheld when requested by individuals who had reason to believe they were targeted. The original lawsuit, filed against Leopold as well as the County Executive's Office and the County Police Department, asks the Circuit Court of Anne Arundel County to order that all responsive records be produced.
Since the filing of the ACLU lawsuit in December, Leopold has been convicted of two counts of misconduct in office, and one of the contributing factors was his direction that EPOs compile dossiers on his perceived political adversaries.
The ACLU naming of Teare as a defendant comes in conjunction with the organization's opposition to motions filed by Leopold and the County to dismiss parts of the suit. In seeking dismissal, the defendants allege that Maryland citizens should not be allowed to enforce the provision of Maryland law that prohibits government officials from collecting, using and disseminating personal information about private citizens for personal or political purposes.
"The County Executive's argument that even if the plaintiffs prove their allegations, the Court should throw the case out and hold that Maryland citizens cannot enforce the state's prohibition on creating personal records without a sufficient governmental need is truly disgraceful," said ACLU Staff Attorney David Rocah. "That the County itself would adopt the same argument is equally offensive."
In March 2013, the County belatedly released to the ACLU two audiotapes of interviews conducted in March 2011 with Executive Protection officers Howard Brown and Mark Walker, concerning improper duties they were required to engage in, including the compilation of dossiers at Leopold's demand. Cpl. Brown said that Teare directed that a copy of each dossier be given to Teare before a copy was given to Leopold. Cpl. Brown also said that Teare himself assisted in gathering information for certain dossiers, including the dossier compiled on former County Councilmember and candidate Thomas Redmond. In March 2012, former Chief Teare appeared before the Anne Arundel County and refused upon advice of legal counsel to answer many questions. In July 2012, Teare's resignation from his position as police chief was announced by the Special Prosecutor's Office, which brought charges against Leopold.
"To quote Howard Baker from the Watergate scandal, ‘What did the Chief know and when did he know it?'" asked Thomas Redmond, a former member of the Anne Arundel County Council and Republican candidate for the Council in 2010. "Like any resident of Anne Arundel County, it is troubling to me that Chief Teare seems to have been as worried about ‘keeping Leopold happy' as he was with ensuring public safety."
In addition, Cpl. Brown said that Leopold directed him to compile a dossier on Karla Hamner after her discrimination lawsuit was filed. Brown said he began collecting information, but subsequently learned from Leopold's Chief of Staff, Erik Robey, that employees were being called in to provide information about Hamner. The Executive staff learned that a police officer was "friends" with Hamner on Facebook and they were going to try to use him to obtain private information on her through the social media site. Disturbingly, the County denied as recently as February 2013 that any dossier ever was compiled on Hamner, despite knowledge of Brown's contrary allegations.
Following Leopold's resignation, the County also reported to the ACLU that more improper criminal background checks were done. In addition to the unlawful criminal background checks concerning ACLU clients Carl Snowden, Thomas Redmond, and Lewis Bracy, which were disclosed in previous responses to ACLU's MPIA requests, the County acknowledged in February that it had records of additional criminal background checks conducted in 2009 on Jacqueline Allsup and Bracy related to their work with the NAACP in sponsoring a speech in Anne Arundel County by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
The plaintiffs are the ACLU and 11 individuals: Jacqueline Allsup, Lewis Bracy, Karla Hamner, Joan Harris, Marvenise Harris, Eugene Peterson, Thomas Redmond, Eric Scott, John Singleton, Mike Shay, and Carl Snowden. Attorneys for the plaintiffs are ACLU of Maryland Legal Director Deborah Jeon, and staff attorneys David Rocah and Sonia Kumar.
Go to the ACLU of Maryland website to learn more.