2021 | Courts

Circuit Court ordered to reconsider public records lawsuit involving county police

Woman was seeking ranks, units of three officers

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A state appellate court has ordered a Circuit Court to take another look at a lawsuit in which a woman sought information about three Montgomery County police officers. 

Through the Maryland Public Information Act, Jaami Ali, of Newark, N.J., asked the department in May 2018 about three officers and for details related to a “Targeted Individuals Awareness Campaign,” from February 2017 to September 2017, according to the court’s decision

The decision does not explain what the “Targeted Individuals Awareness Campaign” is. Ali, however, is director of the Targeted Individuals Awareness Campaign, a group which claims multiple branches of the U.S. government are unfairly targeting her and other people of color through surveillance and other methods. 

Spokespeople for Montgomery County police could not be reached by email for comment on Monday.

Ali asked for information about the unit and ranks of Breness Smith, David Papalia and Sean Reilly. The county denied that request, stating it would “be contrary to the public interest because it would disclose investigative techniques and procedures of the police.” 

Ali also asked for an email the county sent on April 3, 2017, to Reilly. There is no indication in the decision of what the email contained.

Eventually, the police department and the county provided the rank and unit of the three officers, but denied all other information about their involvement in the awareness campaign. 

The officers’ ranks and units are not specified in the Court of Special Appeals’ decision. 

Ali initially appealed the police department’s denial to the county’s Circuit Court. She argued that she was owed other records regarding her PIA request, along with statutory damages because the police department declined to provide documents that she had the right to inspect, the decision stated.

The Circuit Court ruled against her, so Ali appealed to the state’s Court of Special Appeals.

The appellate court acknowledged that Ali received information about the three officers’ rank and unit.

But it ordered that the Circuit Court take another look at the case, particularly whether Ali should receive statutory damages and whether the police department conducted a search in “good faith” to recover the deleted email involving Reilly. 

Those two issues will be the subject of the next hearing, at the county’s Circuit Court. The case docket doesn’t indicate when that will be.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com