CONTACT: Meredith Curtis, ACLU of Maryland, 410-889-8555; email@example.com
BALTIMORE - Documents released to the American Civil Liberties Union in response to a public records request revealed the use of police officers and staff to conduct political opposition research and the potentially illegal use of a criminal history database. The documents are a partial response to the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland public information request concerning Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold's "enemies list".
The files released so far contain personal information about County residents Carl O. Snowden, Joanna Conti, Peter Conti, and Thomas Redmond; the ACLU this week intends to file additional requests under the Maryland Public Information Act to seek files for other prominent Anne Arundel residents who fear they might be on Leopold's list, including County Councilman Jamie Benoit, School Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell, former Councilman Daryl Jones, Eugene Peterson, member of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education, Anne Arundel County NAACP President Jacqueline Boone Allsup, and Annapolis attorney Alan Legum, among others.
"What the ACLU learned from just this partial response to our request is that John Leopold was using police to conduct political opposition research on the County dime," said Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland. "Even worse, the response suggests Mr. Leopold might have demanded that police improperly access a criminal history database in the effort to dig up dirt on his perceived political rivals. That would itself constitute a crime."
It is clear from the documents released thus far that police officers and county staff members were used to gather information about Leopold's political rivals. In addition, the County indicates in its cover letter responding to the ACLU's public information request that Maryland Criminal Justice Information System ("CJIS") records found in the file for Redmond were not released because state law restricts their dissemination. Accessing that criminal history database to supply information for such political "dossiers" would be a crime, as would knowing receipt of such information.
The files provided contain information gathered about four individuals, and the records mirror what would be done for opposition research by a political campaign:
- Carl O Snowden: Press reports regarding his nomination to public posts; real property values; police reports related to traffic accidents; Maryland Judiciary Case Search print outs related to arrest and divorce proceedings.
- Joanna and Peter Conti: Information related to the couple's real estate development investments, including financial audits and deeds; real property values; publicly available biographical information about Peter Conti; research about his financial company.
- Thomas Redmond: Publicly available biographical information from his campaign website; Maryland Judiciary Case Search print outs related to civil cases and a criminal and civil fine.
"I believe it is significant that Leopold's ‘enemies' transcended race and political affiliation," said Carl O. Snowden. "Now, it is vital to find out the true extent of the political opposition research improperly conducted by county employees, as well as what the County Police Chief James Teare knew about the activities and when he knew it."
The ACLU also remains concerned that the "enemies list" 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.