The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief Friday urging the Maryland Court of Appeals to affirm a lower court ruling that police internal investigatory records related to allegations of racial profiling are not confidential “personnel” files under the state’s open records law and must be disclosed upon request. The brief was joined by thirteen other media organizations.
The Maryland State Police argued that such records are private under the personnel records exemption to the Maryland Public Information Act and to reveal the records would constitute an invasion of officers’ privacy. The Maryland Special Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which requested the records. The court found that the records were not “personnel” records under the law. The Maryland State Police appealed the ruling to the Maryland Court of Appeals seeking to have the files kept from the public in their entirety.
The media groups’ brief urges the Maryland Court of Appeals to affirm the Special Court of Appeals’ decision. It argues that police officers have no legitimate expectation of privacy in their public, official actions or in records related to official conduct. A ruling supporting disclosure would be consistent with numerous other jurisdictions that have held similarly, the brief notes.
“The Special Court of Appeals used the proper analysis to find that the public interest in holding police accountable for their actions outweighs any officer privacy right,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. “The NAACP request for these records is laudable, and will give Maryland citizens a better idea of how a powerful state agency handled complaints of racial profiling.”
The brief was submitted by the Reporters Committee, The American Society of News Editors, The Associated Press, The Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, The (Baltimore) Daily Record, E.W. Scripps Company, Gannett Co. Inc., the Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association, NBC Universal, Newspaper Association of America, the Radio Television Digital News Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, The Washington Post Co. and the Washington, D.C.-based Fox broadcast television station, WTTG. Partnering with The Reporters Committee was David S. Wachen of the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker, P.A., who served as Maryland counsel for the brief.