Calvert Co. sheriff sued over access to documents related to searches

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has sued Calvert County Sheriff Mike Evans and his office in order to access documents related to searches.

The ACLU said it filed the lawsuit Wednesday after being “compelled by disturbing accounts” from Calvert County residents about “invasive police searches of Black people, and the sheriff’s demand that more than $12,000 be paid” to see the documents.

The Baltimore-based nonprofit said the information should be made public under Maryland’s Public Information Act.

The ACLU said Evans’ “use of burdensome fees to withhold public information that might reveal police misconduct is part of a troubling new statewide pattern, in response to Anton’s Law — the 2021 law named for Eastern Shore teenager Anton Black who was murdered in 2018 by an officer with a long record of past misconduct that was concealed by local officials.”

That law made changes to the Maryland Public Information Act, allowing for records of policing complaints and discipline to be “more transparent and available, to help guard against police abuse.”

The ACLU said last July it requested documents and related material, including dashboard camera footage, tied to strip searches and body cavity searches conducted by sheriff’s personnel going back to 2017.

As part of the ACLU’s request, the nonprofit said it requested a waiver of charges under the state’s public information act.

But that waiver was denied by the sheriff’s office, according to the ACLU.

“The General Assembly instructed that agencies should not charge fees to access public information where waiving fees would be in the public interest,” said Adam Abelson, a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, the ACLU’s co-counsel in the lawsuit.

“Free access to the truth about harm caused by the law enforcement is key to insuring against repetition,” said Dara Johnson, a legal advocacy associate with the ACLU of Maryland.

WTOP News has reached out to the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office for comment.

Matt Small

Matt joined WTOP News at the start of 2020, after contributing to Washington’s top news outlet as an Associated Press journalist for nearly 18 years.

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