SPJ supports NAACP access to Maryland police records
For Immediate Release:
Hagit Limor, SPJ President, (513) 852-4012, firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew M. Scott, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 215, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists has joined an amicus brief supporting the NAACP’s fight for access to Maryland State Police records, which demonstrate how the department dealt with complaints of racial profiling by troopers.
In the case Maryland State Police v. NAACP, the Maryland Court of Appeals will determine whether exempting the records from disclosure would significantly hinder journalists’ ability to fulfill their “watchdog” function. The amicus brief was filed on Oct. 1 and authored by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
In 2007, the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP sought access to documents related to racial profiling allegations against the Maryland State Police. The NAACP requested all documents obtained or created in connection with any complaint of racial profiling, including complaints filed with or investigated by the MSP’s Department of Internal Affairs.
MSP denied the request on the grounds that the complaints were personnel records of an individual that are exempt from disclosure under the Maryland Public Information Act.
A trial court ruled in favor of the police, classifying the documents as “personnel records,” which are exempt from disclosure. The court said the records “only exist because they represent the complaints of a citizen personally directed to a State Trooper (because of) misconduct, of being intimidated by racial bias, as opposed to legitimate reasons for stopping our motorists.”
Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals, the state’s intermediate court, reversed the trial court, concluding that because the records involved “events occurring while the trooper (was) on duty and engaged in public service,” rather than details about the trooper’s private life, they were subject to disclosure.
The state’s highest court will determine whether the requested files are personnel records that are exempt under state open-records law even when related to an officer’s public conduct.
The amicus brief argues that public officials, including police officers, have diminished general privacy rights when performing official duties, inadvertently limiting the public’s constitutional right to comment freely on an officer’s official duties.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.