Last month, the Maryland Court of Appeals dealt a significant setback to the movement for greater transparency and accountability in law enforcement agencies when it ruled that victims of police misconduct have no right to access any sort of information concerning the police department’s investigation of their complaint, or what disciplinary actions might have been taken against the officers involved. The case, Dashiell v Maryland State Police (MSP), dealt with a Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland on behalf of the plaintiff to obtain records from the MSP to understand how the department was handling Dashiell’s complaint. The MSP refused to release any documents pertaining to the case, prompting Dashiell to take the matter to court. The case eventually reached Maryland’s highest court, which ruled in the MSP’s favor.
The court’s majority opinion, penned by Lynn Battaglia, stated that “records of an internal investigation pertaining to the sustained violation of administrative rules were ‘personnel records’ […] and, therefore, could not be disclosed under the Maryland Public Information Act.” This ruling sets a dangerous precedent for future cases of police misconduct, allowing police departments to conduct internal investigations into civilian complaints without any degree of transparency under a blanket claim of confidentiality. According to Deborah Jeon, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland:
“We think that this result cannot be what the legislature intended in drafting Maryland’s Public Information Act, and can think of no category of information that is more important for the public to have access to, and no issue on which transparency in government is more important.”
Here at Defending Dissent, we agree, and believe that those who are meant to “protect and serve” surely cannot fulfill their role if they are not held accountable to the very people they are meant to serve.