ANNAPOLIS -- Photographs taken of gun-control opponents during a State House protest last month were not meant as an intimidation tactic, state officials said yesterday.
"After the legislative session, they would have been shredded," Capt. Larry W. Tolliver, head of the state police executive protection unit, said. "We aren't putting together dossiers. We don't do that kind of stuff."
Captain Tolliver said the original photos still will be shredded after the legislative session ends April 8.
But the protest's organizers, who obtained the photographs by using the state's public information law, said they were outraged by the police action.
"The Maryland Constitution guarantees us the right of free speech and free assembly," said Robert A. McMurray, spokesman for the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association, which organized the rally and later uncovered the photos. "This is the kind of thing you expect in Hungary or Romania."
The photographs were taken during a Feb. 14 protest in front of the State House, it was reported in The Evening Sun yesterday. Demonstrators were railing against Gov. William Donald Schaefer's proposed ban on military-style assault weapons while House committee conducted a hearing on the bill.
"Photographic surveillance is one of the most basic and fundamental police practices in the world," said Paul E. Schurick, a spokesman for Governor Schaefer. "Implying that dossiers are being opened is pure, plain paranoia."
Captain Tolliver said he decided to employ a photographer, whom he identified only as a state employee, when he became concerned that the rally was getting out of control.
Police already maintain video cameras along the same outdoor area in front of the State House and adjoining the governor's mansion. Also, it is a common practice to have photographs taken of individuals who have been identified as possible threats to the governor, Captain Tolliver said.
"They [the protesters] had just unfurled a banner comparing Governor Schaefer with Hitler," Captain Tolliver said. "When I perceive that there is a possible threat, I would be remiss in not taking them [the photographs]."
Mr. McMurray said the photographs primarily featured organizers, rather than rank-and-file protesters, a sign that "they're going after our grass-roots organizers."
The protest, he said, was "peaceable," and state police admit that none of the protesters had to be arrested.
"Some people may have chanted, but that's what a demonstration's for," Mr. McMurray said.