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MTA now says release of Mondawmin unrest footage would facilitate 'terrorist attack'

Outside bus and metro station at Mondawmin Mall, a youth throws a stone at police officers lining the street.
Outside bus and metro station at Mondawmin Mall, a youth throws a stone at police officers lining the street. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

The Maryland Transit Administration has once again denied a Public Information Act request by The Baltimore Sun for surveillance footage from the Mondawmin Metro station on the day last April that riots broke out in Baltimore, saying that releasing the video would "facilitate the planning of a terrorist attack."

On April 27, 2015, large numbers of police officers staged in the area around the Metro station and adjacent mall based on intelligence they said they had received that large numbers of students planned to gather in the area en masse to protest the police-custody death of Freddie Gray.

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Many in the city, including teachers at nearby Frederick Douglass High School, have blamed the police for provoking students and stranding others by canceling bus service at the transportation hub just as they were getting out of school.

The Sun has sought the footage from the MTA station for nearly a year in order to glean more information about how the clashes that began there, grew, and ultimately turned into rioting, looting and arson in the city that night.

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In denying the Sun's first PIA request last year, the MTA said that the office of Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby had asked it not to release the footage because it was still being used in criminal investigations.

The MTA at that time also expressed concerns about exposing its security system.

The Sun sent the MTA another PIA request for the footage last month, noting that there is a statute of limitations of one year for misdemeanor charges, and that it had been a year since the incident in question — limiting the number of pending investigations there could be.

If some footage remained relevant to open investigations, The Sun said, that footage could be redacted and the rest made available.

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The Sun asked for any footage within a certain time frame showing emergency personnel inside the Mondawmin Metro station or crowds of police or civilians or bus activity outside the station.

When the MTA responded last week, it made no mention of pending investigations in the state's attorney's office. It said instead that the footage could not be released because of Homeland Security concerns.

The Sun asked for clarification, including whether the MTA's position should be interpreted to mean that no footage from MTA metro stations could ever be released in response to a PIA request.

The MTA responded Friday, explaining that The Sun would have to ask the federal Transportation Security Administration for written permission to review any of the footage from the cameras, because they were funded through Homeland Security grants.

But if The Sun were to get that permission, it said, the MTA still would deny the footage based on its belief that the footage "would reveal the facility's safety and support systems, surveillance techniques, and security systems and technologies," as well as "jeopardize the security of the facility; facilitate the planning of a terrorist attack; and endanger the life or physical safety of the public."

The MTA did not respond to The Sun's question of whether its position should be interpreted to mean that no footage can ever be released from metro stations.

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