ANNAPOLIS – Former Superintendent Col. Tim Hutchins said the Maryland State Police was justified in conducting surveillance of anti-death penalty and war groups, during a hearing before a Senate panel Tuesday afternoon.
Hutchins, who was the Maryland State Police superintendent at the time of the surveillance, did say the agency was at fault for classifying 53 individuals of the anti-death penalty and war groups as terrorists in the state police database.
But saying that the surveillance was only used as a public safety precaution, Hutchins maintained the state police did not violate First Amendment rights when gathering its information.
“With regards to this particular instance, you can call it whatever you want. You can call it covert, but these were open public meetings,” Hutchins said, before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “If you’re going to require this reasonable suspicion, then you’re not even going to be able to dispatch your patrol units to places where you think a crime may occur. There was need for it.”
Last week, former Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs presented an independent review to Gov. Martin O’Malley concluding that the Maryland State Police conducted unwarranted surveillance of anti-death penalty and war groups in 2005 – 2006.
O’Malley appointed Sachs to conduct the review in August after the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland released 46 pages of documents in July showing that state police officers spied on the groups.
Sachs’ investigation found the state police violated federal regulations by transmitting its investigative findings to a database maintained by the Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, and showed a “lack of judgment” by labeling peaceful groups as “terrorists” and “security threat groups.”
Hutchins declined to be interviewed during Sachs’ investigation. Instead, he said that he preferred to respond to questions about the Maryland State Police’s actions before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, according to Sachs’ report.
Former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who was governor at the time of the surveillance, also declined to be interviewed by Sachs during the investigation.
“In order to be prepared to deal with certain situations, and it’s not zealous overreaction, it?s a matter of fact that certain things can get out of hand. And to obtain that situational awareness you have to have some kind of knowledge,” Hutchins said. “There is no requirement for a police officer to announce who they are ahead of time, whether they are attending a drug buy or a public meeting.”
After the hearing, representatives from 15 of the advocacy groups that were spied on by the state police planned a news conference calling for a complete and thorough investigation of the state police’s behavior at the time of the surveillance.
While advocacy groups praise Sachs’ review, they maintain that the scope of his report was limited because he had no subpoena power and was only instructed to investigate a 14-month period.
The 15 organizations, who are working with the ACLU of Maryland, want a full investigation to uncover who ordered the surveillance, the length of time of the surveillance, what government officials were involved and what preventative measures will be taken to prohibit future unwarranted spying by state police.
Last week, the ACLU of Maryland filed additional public information requests on behalf of 32 advocacy groups and more than 250 individuals associated with those groups who are concerned that their activities have also been monitored.
“The full duration of the wrongful spying is unknown. Mr. Sachs’ report makes clear that there was more going on than was enclosed in the original set of documents given to us,” said David Rocah, staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland, during his testimony at the hearing. “After listening to the testimonies today, I believe that the assurances that nothing else happened do not appear to be based on a comprehensive search of Maryland State Police records. We don’t know what other files may exist.”