ACLU Sues Maryland State Police for Withholding Public Records and Overcharging for Documents Related to "Driving While Black" Lawsuit
TOWSON, MD – Charging that the Maryland State Police (MSP) are flouting the letter and spirit of the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA), the American Civil Liberties Union teamed with Venable, LLP to file a lawsuit today against the MSP for improperly withholding records and imposing excessive costs for records it is producing. The case was filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court on behalf of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches in order to force MSP to produce information and documents relating to its compliance with a federal court order in the organizations’ "Driving While Black" litigation.
"It raises red flags for the Maryland State Police to be so strenuously resisting some of the NAACP’s reasonable requests for information about steps the department has taken to ensure racial profiling is not perpetuated or tolerated on our highways," said ACLU of Maryland Legal Director Deborah A. Jeon.
ACLU senior staff attorney Reginald T. Shuford said, "In this time of creeping government secrecy, Marylanders should be especially vigilant in preserving their basic ‘right to know’ about important issues of public trust."
The lawsuit charges violations of the MPIA, stemming from an information request initially made by the NAACP in February 2007. The MPIA requires that "a custodian shall permit a person or governmental unit to inspect any public record at any reasonable time." However, several portions of the NAACP’s request were completely denied, including requests for records related to the MSP's internal investigations of racial profiling complaints. The NAACP offered to accept documents redacted where appropriate, but MSP still refused to produce the information.
For those records it has agreed to produce, MSP tabulated the cost of its production at over $55,000 – an exorbitant sum. The MPIA requires that any charge for providing records be a "fee bearing reasonable relationship to the recovery of actual costs incurred by a government unit." But the fee demanded by MSP for the records it agreed to provide is exponentially more than is required by other state agencies: MSP is demanding 75 cents per page, while other agencies only require between 15 and 25 cents per page. In addition, MSP is assessing "collection/gathering" costs of approximately $90 per hour – another staggering amount.
"The Maryland Public Information Act is a vital tool to ensure that our government operates openly and can be held accountable if certain practices violate the law and perpetuate discriminatory, inefficient practices," said Robert Wilkins, an attorney from Venable LLP and an original plaintiff in the "Driving While Black" lawsuit. "Marylanders have a basic right of access to records kept by their government, especially when they show whether government agencies are following the law in a race-neutral manner."
Attorneys on the case are Jeon of the ACLU of Maryland, Shuford of the national ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, and Wilkins, Hector G. Bladuell, Brian L. Schwalb, Seth A. Rosenthal, and Daniel P. Moylan from Venable LLP.
Click here to read the
information on the ACLU Racial Justice Program's work on racial
profiling can be
Background on the ACLU’s "Driving While Black" Lawsuit
In 1993, Robert Wilkins and members of his family filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland against the Maryland State Police charging that they were the victims of "racial profiling," or the practice of stopping motorists and making decisions regarding searches on the basis of race – an "offense" now better known as "Driving While Black." Documents showed that MSP illegally targeted African-American motorists for stops and searches along Maryland’s highways. In 1995, the parties entered into a settlement under which MSP, among other things, agreed to collect data on traffic stops and searches and take measures to prevent racial profiling. Two years later, the federal court overseeing the case ruled that MSP was continuing to target non-white motorists for traffic stops and searches, in violation of the Wilkins agreement.
In 1998, based on accumulated evidence showing a continuing pattern and practice of discrimination by MSP troopers, the ACLU, on behalf of the Maryland NAACP and several individual plaintiffs, filed another lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland charging that MSP troopers were continuing to engage in racial profiling. The parties ultimately agreed to resolve some of the litigation by entering into a consent decree that obligates MSP to take a number of steps to address concerns raised in the lawsuit, including providing the Maryland NAACP with quarterly reports containing detailed information on the number, nature, location and disposition of racial profiling complaints.
In February 2007, the Maryland NAACP submitted a request to MSP under the MPIA to inspect and copy all documents pertaining to twelve categories of records in MSP's possession, custody and/or control. The request was designed to determine whether MSP had complied, and was continuing to comply, with its obligations under the consent decree. MSP has not complied with this request, necessitating the filing of today’s lawsuit.