- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union continued a legal battle with the Maryland State Police on Tuesday to have access to about 9,500 pages of documents on police investigations into allegations of racial profiling.

At issue is whether documents on internal police investigations that authorities say are unsubstantiated allegations of racial profiling are subject to the Maryland Public Information Act.

The case was heard in a rare “en banc” hearing of Maryland’s intermediate appellate court. Usually, cases before the Court of Special Appeals are heard by a three-judge panel, but the case was heard again before the full court.

There have been about 100 cases of alleged racial profiling by state troopers since 2003, but all of them were unsubstantiated.

“The purpose here of our request is to determine whether the state police as an institution is meaningfully investigating these complaints,” said Seth Rosenthal, an attorney representing the NAACP.

While the complaints and outcomes of investigations have been made public, details about internal investigations into unsubstantiated allegations that end up in personnel files are not covered by the Public Information Act, said David Moore, an assistant attorney general.

“To allow personnel records to be invaded because a particular party - with good aspirations - wishes to see them would be to completely obliterate the exception that the legislature has recognized,” Mr. Moore told the court.

But the NAACP and the ACLU contend there is no way to know whether policies adopted by the state as part of a 2003 consent decree in racial profiling litigation are being meaningfully implemented.

“If the state’s position is correct, then the state could simply be throwing every single complaint into the trash can and nobody would know,” Mr. Rosenthal said.

In 2007, the NAACP filed a Public Information Act request to obtain the investigative records created by the complaints, but the police would not release them, citing the exemption of personnel records from the law.

The NAACP took the matter to court later that year, and a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge ruled that the records should be released in redacted form to exclude names. That prompted the appeal by the state.

The NAACP and ACLU are not seeking the names of any officers, only the documents relating to the investigations.

The case has a long history, with litigation first filed in 1993 in Maryland on behalf of individuals. A significant part of the 2003 consent decree required police to make the reporting of racial profiling easier and to promote thorough investigations.

Since 2003, however, the NAACP and the ACLU say racial disparities in police searches on Interstate 95 have continued.

Robert Wilkins, an attorney representing the NAACP, said black drivers have been found to be three to four times more likely to be pulled over than white drivers.

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