ACLU: Documents Reveal Grand Jury Abuse by AA County State’s Attorney & More

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Anne Arundel County State's Attorney speaks to reporters in 2015. Photo: Twitter Feed of AnneArundelSAO.jpg

The following investigation was conducted by the ACLU of Maryland:

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, records provided to the (ACLU) of Maryland and the Caucus of African American Leaders in response to a public records request show that the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney abused the grand jury process by using a grand jury subpoena to try to compel the Annapolis housing authority to provide a monthly roster of all HACA residents and their addresses to the Annapolis Police Department.  The records also seem to show significant misrepresentations to the court by the State’s Attorney, as part of an apparent effort to keep secret the fact that the information was being provided.

HACA had previously provided the tenant roster on a regular basis, at the request of the APD, in violation of HUD rules which make that information confidential, until April of 2016, when HACA’s then ED, Michael Brown, directed staff to consult with the agency’s lawyer before releasing the information.

Faced with HACA’s appropriate refusal to provide the information voluntarily, the APD improperly sought to obtain it using a grand jury subpoena.  The Anne Arundel County’ State’s Attorney, at the request of the APD, issued a grand jury subpoena on October 3, 2017 seeking “Tenant Rosters include (sic) contact information and all persons that appear on a lease of each unit associated with properties under the control of the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis.” The subpoena demanded that such rosters be produced “indefinitely” on the first day of each month.  The subpoena also claimed that “this information is needed to facilitate investigations of violent crimes occurring on the properties” despite the fact that an email sent from Capt. Mark Seidel to APD Chief Scott Baker on October 11, 2017 states that “the information is needed to assist officers in trespass investigations where it can be quickly determined if the suspect is actually visiting a person, or a made up name.  Also is (sic) assists in search and seizure warrants because the officers will know that there are elderly persons or children present in the home.”

The proper function of a grand jury is to investigate crimes that have been or are being committed, not to help police compile evidence that may assist them in investigating possible future crimes.  To conclude otherwise would mean that grand juries would have unfettered power, since there is almost no information that could not at some future point be useful to police, and if prosecutors did not have to wait until the information actually became relevant, they would have the power to subpoena virtually any record from any person at any time. Needless to say, that is not the law.

The State’s Attorney also improperly sought to keep the fact of the subpoena secret from the tenants whose information was being subpoenaed.  On the same day that the grand jury subpoena was issued, the State’s Attorney also sought, and obtained, an order from Circuit Court judge that “a copy of this Subpoena shall not be served on the individuals whose records are requested.” The motion requesting this order again stated, despite internal APD emails to the contrary, that “the records sought pertain to violent criminal investigations occurring on the property of the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis, and disclosure of the subpoena may result in the destruction or less of evidence relating to the commission of a crime.”  The assertion about the potential loss of evidence also seems false, since the only information sought related to who was on the lease, information that a tenant does not control, and could not change, even if the fact of the subpoena became known.

HACA, to its credit, filed a motion to quash the subpoena, at which point the State’s Attorney withdrew the subpoena.  Both the Annapolis Police Department and HACA initially refused to provide a copy of the subpoena in response to the ACLU’s public records request, claiming that the documents could not be released due to court rules prohibiting release of court records relating to grand juries.  When the ACLU pointed out that the material requested was not part of a proper grand jury investigation, was not a record of the court protected by the rule, and that the rule did not (and legally could not) apply to recipients of subpoenas like HACA, the housing authority provided the records.

“The records provided reveal a significant abuse of the grand jury process by the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney, and seem to show troubling misstatements of fact by both the police and the state’s attorney to the court” said ACLU-MD senior staff attorney David Rocah.  “The police and state’s attorney need to explain how these abuses occurred, and what will be done to ensure that they do not ever recur.”

DOCUMENTS:

Annapolis Police Department MPIA Request

HACA MPIA Request

Annapolis Police Department MPIA Response
* Cover email (refers to document called Re_City of Annapolis MPIA Request)
* 10-26-2008 MOU
* APD emails
* 11-28-2016 MOU
* Gazette Article

HACA MPIA Response

* Cover Letter
* HACA emails
* HACA MPIA Follow-up Letter

HACA Supplemental MPIA Response
* Cover email
* Grand Jury Subpoena, State’s Attorney’s Motion, Court Order

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