The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has pressed Anne Arundel County officials to help determine whether County Executive John R. Leopold violated a state anti-spying law by allegedly directing his security detail to investigate political opponents.
The ACLU announced Wednesday that it had asked through a Maryland Public Information Act request for any records relating to the alleged investigation of Leopold's political opponents — allegations contained in an indictment handed down by a grand jury Friday.
Leopold was charged with four counts of political misconduct and one count of misappropriation of county funds. The indictment accuses Leopold of directing the officers assigned to his executive protection detail to "create dossiers on persons he viewed as political challengers."
Deborah A. Jeon, the legal director of the state ACLU, said the allegations contained in the indictment are "deeply concerning" and it is vital that the public learn the full scope of Leopold's alleged actions. "The idea that this was how the county executive was using the police force is very disturbing," Jeon said of the indictment. "Those being targeted were being scrutinized for having engaged in political freedoms."
Leopold, a second-term Republican, declined to comment Wednesday. County Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson said he received the request and "will comply with the requirements of the law." State law requires the government to respond to such requests within 30 days.
The state prosecutor's office, which led the investigation that resulted in the charges, declined to comment on the records request.
The ACLU said that Leopold's alleged actions could violate a 2009 "no spying" law passed by the General Assembly in response to a spying scandal in which the Maryland State Police were accused of investigating and infiltrating anti-death-penalty and anti-war groups and entering information about them into a police database. The law has no criminal penalties but can be litigated in civil proceedings.
The Leopold indictment named two people as subjects of these dossiers: Carl O. Snowden, the director of the Office of Civil Rights for the state attorney general and a longtime Annapolis civil rights activist, and Joanna M. Conti, an Annapolis business executive who ran on the Democratic ticket against Leopold in 2010.
The indictment suggested that there may have been others, but did not name them, and said the security detail officers did not think any of Leopold's political adversaries posed a security risk to the 69-year-old executive.
Snowden, who worked for Leopold's Democratic predecessor and has over the years publicly criticized Leopold for perceived shortcomings on issues relating to the African-American community, said Wednesday he was "not surprised" to be on a list of Leopold's political enemies.
"He has some explaining to do," said Snowden. "I'm sure that kind of criticism didn't do me any favors with him. It reminds you of a period of time … when political leaders used their political powers to punish people. It gets to a level of political menace that the county has not seen before."
Snowden, who successfully sued the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1976 for investigating his anti-war and civil rights activities as a youth, said once the full picture of Leopold's actions become clear, he would reserve the right to take legal action.
"Obviously, if he's done something inappropriate, we'll render whatever the law allows to ensure that people are not subject to be unduly investigated for political reasons."
Conti did not respond to a message seeking comment.
The ACLU's request came on the same day that police union officials called for the second time for the resignation of Leopold and Police Chief James E. Teare, Sr., whom the indictment alleges was made aware of complaints from the officers on the security detail, but failed to take "effective action."
Leopold has said he will not resign and has vowed to fight the charges. Teare has declined to comment.
"Anne Arundel County will become a laughingstock when word of this indictment gets across this country," David J. Holway, national president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers said during an afternoon news conference outside the county government headquarters in Annapolis. His group is the parent of the county lieutenants' and sergeants' union. "He was using his police detail as private serfs."