Police photos at gun rally blasted

March 27, 1991|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Evening Sun Staff

In an incident that police acknowledge was unusual, Maryland State Police ordered photographs taken last month of a demonstration at the State House against a proposed ban on military-style assault weapons.

Police said they decided to photograph the demonstrators because the crowd had become "boisterous."

But Robert A. McMurray, a spokesman for some of the demonstrators, said yesterday he was attempting to gather evidence to show the photographing was done to "intimidate" the protesters and try to dissuade them from exercising their right to assemble.

The Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association obtained copies of some 30 photographs taken at the demonstration by requesting them under Maryland's public information law.

McMurray, a member of MSRPA, said that taking the photographs was unnecessary because the demonstration was legal. None of the protesters had broken the law, he said.

"We do not break the law," he said. "We do come, however, to Annapolis to exercise our rights."

Police officials, however, said the photographs became necessary after the protest grew loud and on the verge of becoming unruly. A police spokesman said police felt the photographs may have been needed later for identifying suspects if laws had been broken.

No one was arrested among the scores of protesters who chanted and held banners outside the State House government complex on Feb. 14 while a House of Delegates committee heard testimony on a bill proposed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to ban assault guns.

Many of the demonstrators were members of McMurray's group and the National Rifle Association. Both organizations have opposed Schaefer administration attempts to legislate gun control. The Schaefer bill to prevent the sale of 39 types of semi-automatic weapons after July 1 died in a Senate committee earlier this month.

State Police Capt. Larry W. Tolliver, who commands the Executive Protection Unit, which provides security for the governor and state lawmakers, said he asked a state employee to take pictures of demonstrators standing at the rear of the State House.

Tolliver said he alone made the decision to have the demonstrators photographed. He would not identify the person who took the pictures, saying only that it was a state employee who is not a member of the State Police or on the State House staff.

Tolliver said that, while it is unusual to take photographs of demonstrators at the State House, it is a security practice done on an "as need basis." He said he does not check with Schaefer first before making the decision.

"It's not his call, it's mine," he said.

Tolliver said he decided to have the event photographed because tensions were high both inside the committee hearing room and outside, where several protesters unfurled banners that likened Governor Schaefer to Hitler.

"At that time I said we need some photographs," he said. Tolliver said 30 photographs of individuals and small groups of protesters were processed, but nothing further was done with the pictures.

Tolliver and Col. Elmer H. Tippitt, State Police superintendent, said the people in the photographs were never identified and are not part of police intelligence files.

"We weren't singling out anybody to do a dossier or to follow them around," said Tippitt.

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