Baltimore Police want to know whether a man suing police for deleting images from his camera at the 2010 Preakness has a drug history, and have reached out to his ex-wife and former employers, an effort his attorneys say amounts to harassment and intimidation.
In recent filings in U.S. District Court, police said "whether or not the plaintiff is a drug addict is absolutely material to his competency as a witness." They have sought phone records, employment records, spoken to his ex-wife's mother and boyfriend, and want the result of a hair follicle test from 2007 divorce proceedings.
Christopher Sharp's case "is clearly based upon his credibility, perception, and ability to remember the facts, as he is the only identified witness to the alleged incident," attorneys for the Police Department wrote in filings. "The defendants have a right to challenge these things."
Sharp is suing the department with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, saying images from his phone were deleted by a police officer after he recorded a female friend allegedly being beaten by officers, who have not been identified. Images of the arrest along with family photos were erased from the phone, Sharp contends.
Attorneys with the ACLU said the Police Department's moves were a "gross abuse of subpoena power."
"Taken together, defendants' actions demonstrate what can only be characterized as a campaign to intimidate, harass, and embarrass Sharp in retaliation for Sharp's having brought this action," his attorneys wrote.
The case has been active since last year. In Washington, a similar suit brought by the ACLU was resolved after police there drafted new regulations guiding officers on the public's right to record. Baltimore Police also drafted new regulations and advisories to officers.
Baltimore police have disputed the ACLU's contention that what happened to Sharp constitutes a pattern within the department, and say their policy changes have been sufficient to guide officers on citizens' rights to record. Officials say other cities have contacted Baltimore for guidance in drafting their own policies.
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But the ACLU has pressed on, arguing that Baltimore did not go as far as D.C. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice has joined Sharp's case, agreeing that police regulations did not go far enough.
The ACLU and Justice Department officials say they do not know of another case in which the department has waded into the issue of the public's right to record police officers.
On Aug. 1, police told Sharp of their intent to subpoena "any and all" of Sharp's medical records relating to a hair follicle test ordered by the Circuit Court of Baltimore County in October 2007.
Before that, they served subpoenas on AT&T for all of Sharp's phone activity from the day before the 2010 Preakness through the following five months, and also subpoenaed Laurel Park, where he worked in the food and beverage operations until a year before the Preakness. In addition they contacted his ex-wife's mother and current boyfriend.
"My ex-wife was not at the 2010 Preakness where the incident at issue in this action took place. She is not a potential fact witness in this case. Likewise, her mother and her current boyfriend are not fact witnesses and I have no reason to believe that they have any information relevant to the facts at issue in this case," Sharp wrote in a sworn declaration.
Sharp does not know who the officers involved in the incident were, and has been pushing police to identify them. But police say they don't know the names of the officers — and say that leaves Sharp as the only witness.