A Maryland state trooper’s traffic stop of a Black family returning from a funeral 18 years ago is at the core of an important racial profiling case before the state’s highest court.
The Maryland Court of Appeals heard arguments on Nov. 5 as to whether or not the Maryland State Police must turn over records of racial profiling complaints to the state National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The NAACP has been seeking the records since 2007 under Maryland’s Public Information Act after state police claimed none of the 100 complaints of, “driving while Black,” filed from 2002 to 2007 were valid.
“It will offer us basic insight into how the agency operates and whether it is taking its obligation to eradicate the unconstitutional practice of racial profiling,” said Seth Rosenthal, who represents the NAACP.
However, the state contends complaints against state troopers and the corresponding internal affairs investigation records amount to making public their personnel files, which should remain confidential.
“There’s a provision that says the person who keeps the records shall not allow inspection by anyone other than personnel interest, which means the employee’s supervisor,” said Steven Sullivan, assistant attorney general to the Court of Appeals.
Sullivan also argues depending on how the court rules it could compromise the personnel files of 330,000 Maryland employees.
In February, a lower court sided with the NAACP, finding the internal affairs investigatory records into racial profiling complaints are not personnel records and must be produced, as long as the documents do not involve an ongoing investigation and information identifying individual officers is obscured or removed. The state appealed that decision in February making way for last week’s hearing.
Statistics for state police searching drivers on I-95 in Maryland indicate in 2008, 30 percent of drivers searched were White and 70 percent were people of color. Of those 45 percent were Black, 15 percent Hispanic and 9 percent was classified as, “other.”
When the state trooper stopped that Black family returning from a funeral in 1992, a subsequent lawsuit was filed and settled. Later, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit, which ended in a consent decree that forced Maryland police to report on racial-profiling complaints and divulge the outcome of internal investigations.
When all the complaints against state troopers were invalidated by their own agency, the ACLU requested details of the investigations be revealed, but was turned down. That led to the public information request by the NAACP. State police denied the request claiming the records were “personnel files.”
There is no deadline for the Maryland Court of Appeals to rule in the case.