Dashiell v MSP: ACLU seeks public information about police racial slur complaint
On November 5, 2009, Sergeant John Maiello, an MSP trooper, contacted Teleta Dashiell because he believed she might be a witness in a case he was investigating. After leaving her his contact information, Maiello - mistakenly believing he had hung up the phone - continued in a conversation with someone else, referencing Ms. Dashiell using a racial slur. Dashiell filed a complaint with the MSP, cooperated with the investigation, and several months later received a letter stating that her claim was sustained and appropriate action had been taken. However, the state police did not provide any further information about its investigation or the action taken.
In March 2010, seeking additional information about how Dashiell's complaint was handled, the ACLU filed a Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) request on behalf of Dashiell to obtain MSP records arising from her complaint. MSP refused to release a single document, including Dashiell's own statement, contending that all the documents are personnel records that are strictly confidential, and that the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights (LEOBR) bars their disclosure. When Dashiell went to court seeking further review, the Circuit Court of Baltimore County, without examining the documents or even requiring MSP to produce an index of what documents exist, granted summary judgment to MSP, permitting the MSP to shield all records of complaint investigations from public scrutiny..
The ACLU asked the Maryland Court of Special Appeal court to overturn that ruling, arguing that MSP's blanket refusal to disclose any information about its investigation of Dashiell's complaint, or about any corrective actions taken in response, was unlawful, and if allowed to stand would undermine trust with communities police are sworn to serve:
In October of 2014, the Court of Special Appeals ruled for Dashiell, holding that the state police could not make blanket claims that every document pertaining to her complaint of police misconduct must be kept secret. The intermediate appellate court sent the case back to the trial court for examination of what documents exist in the file, and the specific grounds on which each document is being withheld by the MSP.
Apparently unwilling to provide even the trial judge with more information about its investigation of Dashiell's complaint, MSP appealed the ruling further, to Maryland's top court. Recognizing the timeliness and importance of the issues raised by Dashiell's case, the ACLU joined the request for a definitive ruling by Maryland's high court, but asked that Court to go further, and to reject the MSP's claim that Dashiell has no legally significant interest in documents pertaining to her complaint. In December 2014, the Court of Appeals announced it would consider this important case.
At issue is the age-old question, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" - who shall guard the guardians? The specific issue before the courts is the public's right to information about how our police departments "police" themselves when dealing with citizen complaints of misconduct. This case has special resonance in light of current events in Maryland and across the country that have brought issues of police accountability to the forefront of public consciousness. It also falls against the backdrop of twenty years of litigation addressing longstanding and persistent violations of civil rights by the MSP, including racial profiling of African-American motorists and spying on political activists, as well as the agency's efforts to shield itself from public scrutiny by seeking criminal prosecution of individuals recording MSP officers performing their on-the-job duties.
The case also follows years of MPIA litigation seeking information from the MSP to determine whether the agency is taking adequate steps to make good on its commitments to remedy its failures, after it was revealed that out of 100 citizen complaints alleging racial profiling over the five-year period from 2003-2008, not a single complaint was sustained.
Date filed: 2010-10-27County: Somerset
Attorneys: Counsel representing Teleta Dashiell are pro bono attorneys Jeff Johnson, Woody Peterson, and Mary Kim of Dickstein Shapiro, LLP; Sonia Kumar, Attorney, ACLU of Maryland, and Deborah Jeon, Legal Director, ACLU of Maryland.
Pro Bono Law Firm: Dickstein Shapiro, LLP