Police Accountability in Maryland

Several people videotaped the arrest of a belligerent woman at the Preakness Stakes and posted it online. The woman assaulted another patron of the race and two officers during her well-deserved arrest.

The criminalization of citizens’ recordings of the arrest, which culminates in the woman lying face down and bleeding, is a different matter.

Toward the end of the video, posted on YouTube (warning: violence and language), a police officer approaches the person filming the arrest and says, “Do me a favor and turn that off. It’s illegal to videotape anybody’s voice or anything else, against the law in the state of Maryland.”

Unfortunately, the officer was right.

The Maryland wiretapping law makes it illegal to record a conversation without the consent of all parties involved. The Preakness incident sparked a debate about the wisdom of a law that makes it illegal to provide public accountability of police actions.

This is the latest in a rash of incidents where Maryland police were recorded while using force or making arrests. While the Maryland law makes an exception for police to record their encounters with citizens, Maryland law enforcement officers will arrest and indict anyone who records their encounter with the police.

Case in point: Anthony Graber was riding his motorcycle and recording the experience with a helmet-mounted camera. He was riding recklessly and beyond the speed limit, which warranted a citation, but not his detention by a Maryland State Police officer at gunpoint and the trooper not first identifying himself as an officer of the law. The first few seconds of the encounter look like a carjacking, not enforcement of traffic laws. Graber posted his interaction with law enforcement officers on YouTube and was arrested for it. He now faces felony charges under the wiretapping statute, and prosecutors sought $15,000 bond for a crime that carries a maximum $10,000 fine. The judge reportedly questioned the charges at the bond hearing. Graber goes to trial on June 1st.

This is a questionable policy in the same state where excessive use of force against a University of Maryland student resulted in discipline and possible criminal charges for three Prince George’s County officers. The same jurisdiction knew that Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo may have had nothing to do with a drug trafficking ring, but raided his home at gunpoint anyway, terrorized his family, and shot his dogs. The result of the raid was that there was no wrongdoing by Calvo and his family.

The Maryland wiretapping law is itching for an update. It’s time for the Maryland code to stop acting as a barrier to transparency in law enforcement operations.