Report Concludes State Police Conducted Unwarranted Surveillance on Activists - Southern Maryland Headline News

Report Concludes State Police Conducted Unwarranted Surveillance on Activists


By ASHLEY M. LEWIS

ANNAPOLIS (Oct. 1, 2008)—The Maryland State Police conducted unwarranted surveillance of nonviolent advocacy groups, violated federal regulations by transmitting its findings to other police departments and incorrectly labeled peaceful groups as "terrorists," according to a report commissioned by Gov. Martin O'Malley and released Wednesday.

The report by former Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs recommends a number of revisions to state police procedures in order to prevent future unwarranted surveillance.

"The report finds that the state police's 14-month covert surveillance, or infiltration, of any death penalty or war groups was not based on any information that these groups were engaging in or had planned any unlawful activity of any kind. The groups were determined not to violate the law," Sachs said during a news conference.

Sachs found the State Police's reasons for the surveillance, that they were doing it for public safety reasons, to be "sincere, but misguided."

In the 93-page report, Sachs said the state police labeled nonviolent groups as "terrorists" and "security threat groups," as well as violated federal regulations by transmitting some of their investigations to a database maintained by the Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program.

The state police also shared its information with several local police departments. None of those departments participated in the surveillance, according to the report.

Nearly three months ago, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland released 46 pages of documents showing that state police officers spied on anti-war and death penalty opponent groups in 2005 - 2006.

O'Malley appointed Sachs to conduct an independent review of why and how state law enforcement officers monitored peaceful groups, and whether or not the monitoring was justified.

The Maryland State Police released a statement in July saying the spying was only conducted in relation to the potential protests surrounding the execution of Vernon Evans in March 2005.

But Sachs said none of the surveillance revealed any evidence of potentially unlawful activity by the advocacy groups. The state police, he said, suffered from a "systemic obliviousness" to the consequences of its intrusion.

As part of his investigation, Sachs sought an interview with former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who was in office when the surveillance took place. According to the report, he was rebuffed.

"We look at this and recognize that it is a learning experience for us. We're going to take these full recommendations and run them. We've already started on some of the recommendations," said Maryland State Police Colonel Terrence B. Sheridan.

In the report, the lead State Police investigator, only referred to as T1, infiltrated meetings and rallies of small nonviolent protest groups from March 2005 to May 2006, even exchanging friendly emails with activists.

As part of Sachs's recommendations, the state police will notify everyone that was monitored and allow them to view the information that was gathered about them, as well as remove inappropriate intelligence from the state database.

Sachs' report came one day after the ACLU filed public information requests on behalf of 32 advocacy groups and more than 250 individuals associated with groups that were concerned they were monitored by local and state law enforcement.

"Mr. Sachs' review was an explosive document, very thorough and appropriately scathing of the Maryland State Police. However, Sachs' mandate was limited, and the full extent of the Maryland State Police's behavior during that time has not been exposed," said David Rocah, staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland. "And that is why we will continue to seek the public information on behalf of the other groups."

During a press conference with reporters Tuesday morning, Rocah said the ACLU will push for legislation to establish standards for police surveillance.

But O'Malley said he did not foresee a reason for new legislation.

"I think the recommendations are sound. Now, of course, members of the General Assembly may review this and do their own investigation and come to the conclusion that statutes are necessary rather than regulations," O'Malley said.

A full copy of Mr. Sachs's report can be found at http://www.governor.maryland.gov/documents/Sachsreport.pdf.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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