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Amicus brief highlights need for transparency in police misconduct investigations

March 13, 2015:  On March 13, the Public Justice Center called for the public disclosure of records in police misconduct investigations in an amicus brief filed before the Court of Appeals. The case concerns Teleta Dashiell, who was surprised to receive a voicemail message containing a racial slur from State trooper John Maiello. Sergeant Maiello had attempted to contact her as a potential witness in a case he was investigating. Ms. Dashiell filed a complaint against Sergeant Maiello, and an internal investigation was conducted. The complaint was sustained, and Sergeant Maiello disciplined. Ms. Dashiell then requested the records of the investigation pursuant to the Maryland Public Information Act. The Maryland State Police denied the request, relying on the personnel records exemption and the confidentiality provisions of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. Represented by the ACLU of Maryland, Ms. Dashiell filed suit to obtain access to the documents, but the Circuit Court ruled against her. The Court of Special Appeals reversed the Circuit Court’s ruling that the documents were properly withheld and rejected the Maryland State Police’s argument. The Court of Appeals granted certiorari, or discretionary review, in the case, Maryland Department of State Police v. Teleta Dashiell, signaling that it considers the case of public importance.
The Public Justice Center’s amicus brief discusses the renewed focus on the persistent problem of police misconduct and its disproportionate effect on communities of color in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and, here in Maryland, Tyrone West. The brief provides the Court with information about the dimensions of police misconduct both nationally and in Maryland. Brief author and Murnaghan Fellow Anna Jagelewski argues that current strategies for deterring police misconduct—civil litigation, criminal prosecution, and internal affairs investigations—are all constrained by significant limitations, highlighting the need for new strategies to address police misconduct. She then advocates for the disclosure of records of misconduct investigations to allow the public to identify abuses and inadequacies in internal investigations, and to build trust between the police and the communities that they serve.
Thanks also to PJC intern Ejaz Baluch, who contributed valuable research and drafting assistance, and the organizations that signed on to the brief:  CASA de Maryland, the Caucus of African-American Leaders, Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, and the Somerset County Organizational Partnership.

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