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Records of police misconduct can be kept from public, court rules

Maryland's high court rules that complaints against police officers are exempt from disclosure.

Internal records related to a police officer's misconduct cannot be disclosed to the public and are exempt from the Maryland Public Information Act, the Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

The question before the state's highest court centered on whether citizens have a right to know the outcome and other information about an investigation once misconduct allegations are sustained. In a 5-2 ruling, the court said the law exempts personnel information from disclosure and does not differentiate between "sustained" and "unsustained" complaints.

In 2009, Teleta Dashiell, an African-American, said Sgt. John Maiello left his contact information on an answering machine. He believed he ended the call, but he was overheard describing Dashiell with a racial slur.

She lodged a complaint and several months later received a letter from the department stating that her claim was sustained and that appropriate action had been taken. But the department refused to provide further information about its investigation or what disciplinary action, if any, was taken.

The court said that a determination that a sustained finding requires disclosure would affect all public employees, not only police officers. Further, mandatory disclosure findings could chill the disciplinary process, rendering those in control less willing to sustain a finding of misconduct, the ruling said.

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