Police disciplinary files are exempt from the Maryland Public Information Act, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled Thursday, voting 5 to 2, says the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The majority noted that the law exempts personnel information from disclosure and does not make a distinction based on whether a citizen's complaint is “sustained” or “unsustained.” It said mandatory disclosure of the findings could have a chilling effect on the disciplinary process.
Public interest in police discipline files was heightened after former officer Michael Wood tweeted a number of allegations against the Baltimore Police Department regarding police misconduct. In 2009, Teleta Dashiell filed a complaint against a Maryland State Police officer who accidentally left a racial slur on her answering machine. The State Police told her that the complaint had been sustained and appropriate action had been taken, but she was unable to verify the details of the discipline or the investigation into her complaint through the Maryland Public Information Act. Steven Zansberg, a media law attorney in Denver, said that in some states, including Florida, Ohio, Montana, and Arizona, the public is entitled to inspect disciplinary records on completion of a disciplinary investigation as a matter of statute.