- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Baltimore County Circuit Court will have to again consider a legal complaint that seeks details about an internal investigation of a state trooper who used a racial slur in a voicemail message to a black woman, a state appeals court has ruled.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the state’s intermediate appellate court, found that the Maryland State Police could not make a broad claim that every document relating to Teleta Dashiell’s complaint of police misconduct could be exempt from disclosure.

The ruling won praise Friday from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

“The court’s ruling means that police departments can no longer categorically refuse to let the public see records about whether and how police are policing themselves,” ACLU of Maryland attorney Sonia Kumar said in a written statement.

Police contended that disclosing the investigative file would dissuade witnesses from cooperating in internal investigations and inhibit candor in the decision-making process. The state attorney general’s office is reviewing the decision to move the case back to the circuit court, spokesman David Paulson said.

A key point in the court’s ruling notes that Dashiell specifically asked police to provide “any reasonable severable portion” of records sought, in the event that the state police determined records were exempt from disclosure. The ruling said police rejected the request and claimed without explanation that no portion of the request record “is reasonably severable.”

The ruling also said Baltimore County Circuit Court failed to decide whether any portion of the requested documents found to be exempt were severable and subject to disclosure. The appeals court said the lack of identification and information about the withheld documents precluded the trial court from determining whether any redactions would remove a particular document from an exemption. The ruling sends the case back to Baltimore County Circuit Court.

The case involves a 2009 voicemail message that state police Sgt. John Maiello left on Dashiell’s voicemail. He contacted her because he believed she might be a witness in a case he was investigating. He can be heard using a racial slur in conversation with another trooper, apparently after he believed he had hung up.

She filed a complaint. The state police told her that the incident had been investigated and that her complaint had been sustained. But the agency would not say if the officer had been disciplined and declined to release details, saying it was a confidential personnel matter.

“The police should tell you what happens to your own complaint,” Dashiell, of Somerset County, said in a written statement. “To this day, I still don’t know what the Maryland State Police did about the officer, and that’s just not right.”

Maiello retired in April 2012, state police spokeswoman Elena Russo said.

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