A story in the January 4th issue of the Washington Post reveals the unlikely targets of police surveillance—civil rights groups and peace advocates.
In 2005, the Maryland State Police began a program of surveillance as a “threat assessment of protests,” which the police anticipated at the executions of two convicted criminals. According to the Post article, the Maryland State Police initially treated the surveillance as a “low-risk training exercise.” However, the original purpose of the investigation grew blurred as more organizations were targeted by surveillance efforts.
By the time the surveillance activities were curtailed in 2007, the roster of organizations of interest to the Maryland Police included well-known activist groups such as Amnesty International and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Local protest groups—such as the Maryland Campaign to End the Death Penalty and anti-war groups at universities and colleges—were also investigated by the police.
Although Maryland Police Superintendent Terrance Sheridan has defended “gathering information from open sources,” an earlier story from the Washington Post shows that the surveillance efforts of the Maryland State Police went beyond simply monitoring organizations. In October 2008, the Chief of Maryland’s State Police admitted that 53 activists had been classified as “terrorists.”
Police Superintendent Sheridan and other police officials have admitted that the terrorist label was inappropriate, and partially the result of “limited options for classifying entries” in the state police database software. In some cases, the Washington Post article reports, these labeled names were shared with the Washington–Baltimore High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area database— a federal criminal database used in narcotics cases.
This situation illustrates the care that police officials need to exercise in pursuit of their goals. If this surveillance program was indeed a training exercise, then why enter mislabeled information into a criminal database? This action creates the potential for additional unwarranted scrutiny, police harassment and unjustified arrests.
The Maryland Police are committed to their job of protecting the public. Unfortunately, in their efforts, they can overstep the boundaries that protect the rights of innocent citizens. The Maryland State Police has announced that in no case have any members of the organizations under surveillance been charged with criminal activity, and the records of this investigation will be purged. It is crucial to seek legal advice or representation by a skilled lawyer if your rights are in jeopardy. Call Alpert Schreyer, LLC to speak to one of our experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys by calling (301) 321-7277.