Zuckerman Spaeder Client ACLU of Maryland Sues Calvert Co. Sheriff’s Office for Restricting Access to Records through Improper Fee Demand
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland today sued the Calvert County Sheriff's Office in Maryland and Sheriff Mike Evans, claiming that the office is violating the law by requiring fees as part of a records request. Representing the ACLU, Zuckerman Spaeder filed a complaint arguing that under the Maryland Public Interest Act (MPIA), its client’s request is in the public interest and therefore any responsive records should be produced without charging a fee.
In July 2021, the ACLU made a request under the MPIA for records related to three types of searches conducted since 2017 by the Sheriff’s Office. The ACLU also sought a fee waiver, indicating that “(1) the information sought would significantly contribute to the public understanding of the sheriff’s office operations and activities; (2) there is a strong public interest in having the requested information available as there is a genuine public concern regarding policing; and (3) the waiver would primarily benefit the public...” The MPIA stipulates that fees must be waived if the custodian of the records determines that doing so is in the public interest.
After months of back-and-forth, the defendants responded in November 2021 with a letter denying the fee waiver and asking for more than $12,000 to produce available records. According to the complaint, that denial ignores “the public interest apparent from the face of the ACLU’s July 22 request.”
“Essential to the ACLU’s mission is gathering information and producing reports that serve the interest of all Marylanders,” said Zuckerman Spaeder partner Adam Abelson. “By dismissing the clear public interest that is inherent in the police records request, the Sheriff’s Office has imposed an arbitrary and capricious barrier to the public’s right to access to essential information.”
The information sought by the ACLU includes: the number of body searches, strip searches, and manual body cavity searches; video and/or audio recordings, including dashboard camera footage and/or body camera footage for all strip searches and manual body cavity searches; and, field observation reports, uniform criminal citation reports, criminal investigation/case reports, arrest reports, statements of charges, probable cause continuation sheets, and/or Traffic Stop Data Collection forms that relate to or arise out of any strip search or manual body cavity search.
The complaint was filed in the Baltimore Circuit Court by Zuckerman Spaeder partner Adam Abelson, associate Justin Lewis, and paralegal D'Ann Vermilye, along with Deborah Jeon, Gina Elleby, and Dara Johnson of the ACLU of Maryland. The case is American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland vs. Office of The Sheriff of Calvert County, Maryland and Mike Evans; the complaint can be found here.