Maryland's highest court has ruled that the state police must give the NAACP access to internal affairs files on racial profiling complaints.
The civil rights group had requested the documents under the Maryland Public Information Act but the police agency denied the request, saying the records were protected personnel files. The Maryland Court of Appeals rejected that argument, agreeing with a Baltimore County court that the information could be shared if identifying information is redacted.
Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the ruling will help keep police accountable.
"It's important, because it lets us know that when these kinds of complaints are filed that they are taken seriously," he said.
The state police and the Maryland attorney general's office, which handled the appeal, said they are reviewing the ruling and had no further comment.
The ruling is the latest in a two-decade battle with the state police over racial profiling, which was initiated by the American Civil Liberties Union and joined by the NAACP. The fight has lasted so long that the plaintiff in the first case went on to be an attorney in later ones and is now a federal judge.
Despite their court victories and the state police having promised reforms, the rights groups say that black motorists are still stopped in disproportionate numbers.
In 2003, the state police agreed to begin sharing basic information on racial profiling complaints and how they were closed. The data showed that police did not uphold a single complaint filed between 2003 and 2008, according to the ACLU.
Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU in Maryland, said the records that will be released under the ruling will shed light on how thoroughly the police investigated those cases and any future accusations.
"We finally will get a look under the tent," she said.
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