Maryland Court Orders State Police To Turn Over Racial Profiling Records

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Will Matthews, (212) 549-2582 or 2666; media@aclu.org

Maryland Court Orders State Police To Turn Over Racial Profiling Records

ANNAPOLIS, MD - The
Maryland Court of Special Appeals today ordered the Maryland State
Police (MSP) to release records of investigations into racial profiling
complaints against police personnel. The decision by the full court
overrules part of a decision by the Circuit Court of Baltimore County
concluding that these records are "personnel records" under the
Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) and exempt from disclosure.

"Despite ongoing efforts to combat
it, there can be no denying that racial profiling by police continues
to persist in communities across the nation," said Reginald T. Shuford,
senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Racial
Justice Program. "Hopefully today's decision will set a powerful
precedent for transparency that will enable any police department that
illegally and unconstitutionally targets people of color to be held
accountable."

The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed
on behalf of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches (NAACP) by
the ACLU charging the MSP with violating the MPIA by improperly
withholding documents showing whether it has meaningfully investigated
complaints of racial profiling in the wake of a federal consent decree
in the ACLU's "Driving While Black" litigation.

"The Court of Special Appeals has
reinforced the fundamental right of the public to information that
allows them to hold government agencies accountable and ensure that bad
public policies, such as racial profiling, are addressed and not
perpetuated," said Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of
Maryland.

In 2003, the NAACP and the MSP
entered into a consent decree stemming from racial profiling litigation
initiated in the early 1990s. Despite the consent decree, however,
there continued to be complaints from African-American motorists
alleging racial profiling, and the data gathered continued to show
large disparities between whites and non-whites in traffic stops and
searches by the MSP. People of color were stopped and searched much
more often, even though the MSP did not find drugs or other contraband
on them any more frequently than when searching whites.

A key provision of the 2003 consent
decree was an agreement by MSP to make the process of filing racial
profiling complaints more user-friendly for motorists. MSP also agreed
to thoroughly investigate all complaints.

"The ruling handed down by the Court
of Special Appeals today is a true victory for the Maryland State
Conference NAACP, the ACLU and for the citizens of Maryland," said
Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP
Branches. "There have been reports of racial profiling all over the
country, and this ruling will give us the ability to determine if and
when reports and complaints of racial profiling are thoroughly
investigated and handled appropriately."

Data collected in Maryland since
2003 shows that racial disparities regarding who is being searched by
the MSP on Interstate 95 persist. Data from 2008 shows that minorities
were about 70 percent of those searched on I-95, while whites comprised
30 percent of those searched. These percentages are almost exactly the
same as for 2002, the year prior to the 2003 Consent Decree.

Since 2003, approximately 100
official complaints alleging racial profiling have been filed by
minority motorists. The MSP has confirmed that not a single one of
these complaints has been sustained following the requisite internal
investigation. Thus, since 2003, no MSP trooper has ever been found to
have engaged in racial profiling, and no disciplinary action has ever
been taken against a trooper for racial profiling.

In February 2007, the NAACP,
represented by Venable LLP and the ACLU, filed a request under the MPIA
to obtain the investigative records created in connection with the
racial profiling complaints filed since 2003. The NAACP asked for the
records with all information identifying the motorists and the troopers
redacted. The point was not to target particular troopers, but rather
to see whether the MSP was truly investigating the complaints and
taking seriously its responsibility to eliminate racial profiling by
its troopers.

The MSP refused to turn over the
documents, even in redacted form, saying that they were "personnel
records" exempt from disclosure under the MPIA. In September 2007, the
NAACP filed suit, and in June 2008, Baltimore County Circuit Court
Judge Timothy Martin ruled that the records should be disclosed in
redacted form, and that doing so would not violate the personnel
records exemption of the MPIA. Rather than turn over the records, the
MSP appealed the ruling. In the appeal, the Attorney General, on behalf
of the MSP, took the position that the investigative records are
"personnel records" exempt from disclosure and that they may never be
disclosed – even in redacted form.

"This is not simply a victory for
the NAACP, it is a victory for the principle of open government," said
Seth Rosenthal of the law firm Venable LLP. "The court correctly found
that the law requires, rather than prohibits, the state police to
disclose to the public exactly what it does to investigate complaints
of racial profiling by its troopers."

Attorneys on the case include
Shuford of the ACLU Racial Justice Program, Jeon of the ACLU of
Maryland and Rosenthal, Robert Wilkins and Brian Schwalb of the law
firm Venable, LLP.

A copy of today's decision is available online at: www.aclu.org/racial-justice/maryland-state-police-department-v-maryland-state-conference-naacp-branches-decision 

Additional information about the ACLU Racial Justice Program is available online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice

 

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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