Court of Appeals Grants Rapid Review in Police Records Case
Yesterday, the Court of Appeals granted certiorari in a single case, Maryland Department of State Police v. Dashiell, Case No. 84, Sept. Term 2014, which arose from a police officer’s use of a racial slur on the voice-mail of a potential witness, Teleta Dashiell. Ms. Dashiell’s complaint was “confirmed” by the Maryland State Police and resulted in some unexplained disciplinary action against the officer. When Ms. Dashiell later sought the investigation documents for the incident, her request was denied as seeking personnel records that were exempt from disclosure under the Maryland Public Information Act (“MPIA”) and Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (“LEOBR”). (The denial also stated that such disclosure would be against the “public interest.”)
The circuit court agreed that the MPIA protected the records, but the Court of Special Appeals, in an Oct. 8 opinion, No. 1078, Sept. Term 2011, reversed, holding: (1) that the LEOBR didn’t trigger MPIA protection for records that are barred from inspection by some other statute; and (2) the circuit court had not properly determined which documents were protected as personnel records, investigation records, or inter-agency memoranda under the MPIA, suggesting that the Maryland State Police could be required to disclose any portions of the records could be reasonably severed from other protected documents. (The court also held that, as a complainant, Ms. Dashiell was not a “person of interest” under the MPIA such that the State Police would have to make a heightened showing before denying her access to the records.) The case was remanded so that the circuit court could analyze MPIA exemption for individual documents rather than the set of records as a whole.
Given the open questions of statutory interpretation involved, it’s not too surprising that the Court of Appeals took up the case for review. Some curiosity, however, is prompted by the speed at which it did so — only about two months after the intermediate appellate opinion issued, and a week before the court would normally review certiorari petitions at its monthly conference. If any of you MdAppBlog readers out there have any thoughts or insights on the expedited grant, we’d be interested to check them out in the comments below…