ACLU to Leopold and Teare: Illegal Searches ‘Beyond the Pale’
County Executive John Leopold and Anne Arundel Police Chief James Teare have some explaining to do.
So says a media release from the Maryland Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who said that employees of the County Executive improperly accessed state and federal criminal history databases. On Tuesday, the ACLU called on Leopold and Teare to answer for the illegal searches.
County Executive Leopold was indicted in early March by Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt on four charges of Misconduct in Office and one charge of Fraudulent Misappropriation of County Finances.
According to the ACLU media release dated Tuesday, June 5, the online searches were conducted through the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) and the Maryland State Police (MSP). The ACLU report said that searches were identified among entry logs gathered from a Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) request.
The release said that the searches were made on behalf of Leopold, who had some sort of “enemies list” of political opponents.
It is a criminal offense for such databases to be accessed without the proper authority or without a legitimate law enforcement purpose.
“The facts are clear that employees of County Executive Leopold improperly accessed government criminal history databases for purposes unrelated to law enforcement,” said Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland. “Especially alarming is that William Hyers, a retired county police detective who is a part-time contract employee in the office of the County Executive, retained his police department login credentials to the highly regulated and secure state criminal history database, despite having retired from the Police Department. This is just beyond the pale. The public should demand that County Executive Leopold and Chief Teare come clean about what role they played in this misconduct, as well as how and why these illegal activities were carried out on their watch.”
The logs accessed by the ACLU only date to 2009, so it is unclear if other names were searched prior to that date. Leopold assumed office in December of 2006.
The three searches that were uncovered by the ACLU include (the following three bullet items are verbatim from the ACLU press release):
- National Security Agency Law Enforcement Officer Lewis Bracy: Bracy’s CJIS file was improperly accessed, on an Anne Arundel County Police Department computer, on October 30, 2008 by William H. Hyers, who has been a contract employee with Leopold’s office since his retirement from the Anne Arundel County Police Department over five years ago. Bracy has no criminal history, but has a record in the CJIS database because his fingerprints were taken as part of the security check for his former job as a police officer with the National Security Agency. The County has thus far improperly refused to produce any dossier compiled on Lewis Bracy, but the improper criminal history search was done within a few weeks of the search on Thomas Redmond (and there was no legitimate reason for a search to have been done on any date, because Bracy has never been accused or suspected of any crime). Despite the fact that Hyers is no longer an Anne Arundel County police officer, as of April 4, 2012, he continues to have access to the NCIC system using his Anne Arundel County Police Department login, and accessed a record as recently as March 26, 2012.
- Former County Councilman Thomas Redmond: Redmond’s CJIS file was improperly accessed on September 12, 2008 by Anne Arundel County Police Officer Timothy P. Phelan, who was a part-time member of the Leopold’s Executive Protection Unit. The search of Redmond’s records occurred on the same date that other documents in his dossier were printed out by Anne Arundel County police officers (as shown by the footer printed on the documents provided to the ACLU in response to an MPIA request).
- Carl Snowden: Snowden’s NCIC file was improperly accessed on July 28, 2009, by Anne Arundel County Police Detective Patrick A. Donohue. The search of Mr. Snowden’s records occurred on the same date that other documents in his dossier were printed out by Anne Arundel County police officers (as shown by the footer printed on the documents provided to the ACLU in response to an MPIA request). Det. Donohue falsely asserted a criminal justice purpose in accessing the records when he logged in to the system.
The release states that, “As troubling as each of these searches is, the illegality of the CJIS search of Bracy’s records is heightened because it was done by Hyers, whose retirement from law enforcement would seem to strip him of legitimate authority to access to the CJIS database.
“Moreover, given Bracy’s long career as a police officer with the National Security Agency and the security clearances every five years that his position required, it is difficult to fathom what possible basis Hyers could have had to search for a criminal record. Not only did Bracy have no criminal background, for decades he has engaged in volunteer work to help guide children away from drugs and crime in his community through anti-drug programming. Bracy has also served on the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Breakfast Committee, the Anne Arundel County NAACP, and as a volunteer in the Anne Arundel County School System, helping to run an after school program similar to “Scared Straight.”
“For decades, I have been dedicated to helping the children in my community have bright futures and not get off track with drugs and gangs,” said Bracy. “And as a federal employee under the Hatch Act, my political activities have been restricted, so I have never been a political rival to Mr. Leopold – or anyone. To me, these illegal searches are petty.”
The release said that the “ACLU is recommending that the department undertake a top to bottom review of its procedures and training for criminal history database searches, including review of the improper searches brought to light by the state logs. The ACLU is also calling on Chief Teare and County Executive Leopold to explain how and why a former officer working in the County Executive’s office continues to have a police logon to the CJIS system long after he retired, and for both officials to explain their own involvement in or knowledge of the searches. Finally the ACLU is renewing its call on DPSCS Secretary Gary Maynard to audit the Anne Arundel department, in light of the improper usage of the database shown here. The ACLU believes that AACPD’s access to the database should continue only upon an affirmative showing that the department has instituted appropriate controls to ensure that passwords are limited to those with proper authority, that they have appropriately trained officers, and disciplined those who authorized or directed the improper searches.”