Hate-crime charges were dropped Thursday against two women accused of burning a Trump campaign sign in Princess Anne, police said.
"The decision to dismiss the charges was based upon a joint decision between the Princess Anne Police Department and the Somerset County State's Attorney's Office upon reviewing the case," according to a statement from Timothy R. Bozman, chief of the Princess Anne Police Department.
D'Asia R. Perry of Baltimore and Joy M. Shuford of Owings Mills, both 19, were charged with multiple offenses after a Trump campaign sign belonging to Wink's Sporting Goods in Princess Anne was set on fire April 14.
In addition to the hate-crime charge, the statement said second-degree arson charges were also dropped.
Both women still face charges including malicious burning, trespassing and malicious destruction of property. Neither has an attorney listed in online court records. The two have trials scheduled for May 22.
David Rocah, a senior attorney with the ACLU of Maryland, said it was "beyond absurd" that the hate-crime statute was used in this case and reflects "a profound misunderstanding of what the Maryland hate-crime statute says."
In Maryland, the law targets crimes motivated by a victim's race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, disability, national origin or homelessness.
The hate-crime statute is intended to "provide and enhance penalty" for crimes that "put entire communities of persons in fear," Rocah said.
But political views are not protected in this fashion, he said.
"Burning someone's political sign isn't a hate crime," Rocah said. The other charges concerning the burning, destruction or, as in other cases, thefts of political signs, can get to those offenses.
"The word 'hate' is a plain English word, but in order to be a hate crime, it has to be hatred on a very specific grounds," said Michael Meyerson, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
In the Princess Anne sign burning, he said, there are "perfectly fine, neutral laws" to use against the suspects, such as destruction of property.
Rocah said it is particularly offensive that the charges show a presumption that because the women charged are black and President Donald Trump is white, that means the act is a hate crime.
"There's nothing in the statement of charges that would warrant that presumption. The completely convoluted language that's there reflects that basic fact," he said.
"It's not OK to squelch someone's political views, but that doesn't excuse what the police and fire marshal did here. I think it's clear that they need remedial education on what is and isn't a hate crime in Maryland," Rocah said.
Matthew Adams, the chair of the Somerset County Republican Central Committee, did not return a request for comment Thursday. The group's Facebook page shared links to the stories about the incident, including a post that said, "The hate crime in Princess Anne ... is going to get a TON of attention!"
Another post said, "Let's hope these two are made an example of. Prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law!"
Princess Anne police charged both women after reviewing surveillance video near the sign, according to the charging documents. Police later located the silver Volkswagen Beetle seen in the video, which they said was driven by Perry.
A spokeswoman with University of Maryland Eastern Shore said Perry is enrolled at the school.