ACLU Pushes for Government Transparency, Accountability in Maryland State Police Racial Slur Case

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
October 4, 2012 10:32 am

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ANNAPOLIS – Concerned that Maryland State Police (MSP) have been granted carte blanche to keep secrets about how the agency addresses citizen complaints of police misconduct, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland today asked Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals to overturn a lower court ruling permitting the department to shield all records of complaint investigations from public scrutiny. The challenge comes in the case of a Somerset County woman, Teleta S. Dashiell, who is seeking information related to MSP’s handling of her complaint about a voicemail message she received from a state trooper in which he twice uses a racial slur. The ACLU appeal argues that MSP’s blanket refusal to disclose any information about its investigation of Dashiell’s complaint, or about any corrective actions taken in response, is illegal and undermines trust with communities troopers are sworn to serve.

“Teleta Dashiell hoped that her pursuit of a citizen complaint would help to restore her faith in law enforcement, by allowing MSP officials to demonstrate that such complaints are taken seriously, and that the Department does not tolerate racism,” said ACLU attorney Sonia Kumar. “The State Police message of ‘Trust us’ is just not an adequate response for someone who is complaining of police misconduct and has good reason not to trust the police. As the court has previously said, what police officers do while on duty as part of their jobs is a public, not private matter.”

On November 5, 2009, Maryland State Police Sergeant John Maiello left an offensive voicemail message containing a racial slur on the cell phone of Teleta Dashiell, a resident of Somerset County. Although the MSP closed their investigation into the incident during the second week of February 2010, they have refused to release any details of the content or results of the investigation or about any corrective actions taken.

“How can members of a community have faith that police officers will be held accountable for abuses when the results of legitimate complaints are kept secret?” asked Gerald Stansbury, President of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches. “Law enforcement officials are supposed to be responsive to the community they serve, but this stonewalling by the Maryland State Police threatens to undermine not only the trust of African Americans in Somerset County but also the right of any Marylander to open, transparent government.”

A 2010 en banc decision by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in a public information case concerning racial profiling complaints brought against the MSP by the ACLU and NAACP held that MSP should produce such investigatory records. In that case, the appeals court said:

Racial profiling complaints against Maryland State Troopers do not involve private matters concerning intimate details of the trooper’s private life. Instead, such complaints involve events occurring while the trooper is on duty and engaged in public service. As such, the files at issue concern public actions by agents of the State concerning affairs of government, which are exactly the types of material the Act was designed to allow the public to see.

Counsel representing Teleta Dashiell are pro bono attorneys Shavon Smith and Jeffrey Johnson of Dickstein Shapiro, LLP; Sonia Kumar, Attorney, ACLU of Maryland, and Deborah Jeon, Legal Director, ACLU of Maryland.

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