WASHINGTON (AP) — Maryland’s highest court has agreed to hear a case involving the state’s public records law and whether it requires state police to turn over records involving a trooper who used a racial slur.
The court said Wednesday it would take the case of Teleta Dashiell, who filed a complaint after a Maryland State Police trooper accidentally left her a telephone message containing a racial slur. After she complained, Dashiell was told in a letter that that “appropriate disciplinary action” had been taken and was documented in the trooper’s personnel file. But when Dashiell filed a Public Information Act request to learn more, the agency told her no records could be released.
Sonia Kumar of the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the attorneys representing Dashiell, said the case is really about whether the public gets to see records on how police “police themselves” and said it can’t be that every single record in the case is secret.
“That kind of secrecy further corrodes public trust,” she said.
According to court records, a Maryland State Police sergeant telephoned Dashiell in November 2009 as part of a case he was investigating. The trooper left a message but then, not realizing he hadn’t hung up, he continued a conversation with someone else in which he used the slur in talking about Dashiell. After Dashiell complained, she was told in a 2010 letter that her allegations had been confirmed and the trooper had been disciplined.
ACLU lawyers representing Dashiell filed a public information request to learn more about how her complaint was handled, asking for any documents, incident reports, witness statements and other records created during the investigation. The agency declined to release any documents, arguing that the state’s public information law and a state law that gives law enforcement officers certain protections exempted the records from disclosure.
Two other courts have already ruled on the case. The Circuit Court for Baltimore County ruled the Maryland State Police didn’t have to release any records. But in October, a three-judge panel of Maryland’s intermediate level court, The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, overturned the lower court’s decision and said the lower court judge should have reviewed the documents before ruling that they could be withheld.
The Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court, will likely hear arguments in May. A spokesman for the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, which is representing the State Police, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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