Appeals court bars gun group from using police raid records

January 14, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Maryland's highest court ruled yesterday that a pro-gun organization cannot make public use of Baltimore police records that grew out of a search of its headquarters on the eve of the state's 1988 gun-control referendum.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled unanimously to overturn a decision of the state's second highest court, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which ruled last April that the Maryland Committee Against the Gun Ban had a right to review and use the police files.

Since the intermediate court's ruling, the pro-gun group has obtained the records by subpoena in a related federal lawsuit against the city. The group had planned to use the records in its federal suit.

But the Court of Appeals' ruling reinstated a decision by Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Lawrence H. Rushworth, who said that the group could not use the records.

The state's high court said that the Maryland Committee Against the Gun Ban was prohibited from using the records because the organization was not the subject of the investigation.

The records resulted from an internal police investigation into the behavior of two officers who raided the organization's headquarters in the 2500 block of N. Calvert St. on the night before the referendum, against which the group campaigned unsuccessfully.

City police, armed with a subpoena, raided the group's headquarters and searched its files. Complaints were filed against two officers about their actions in raiding the office, but the internal investigation concluded that there was not enough evidence to bring administrative charges against either of them.

Howard J. Fezell, an attorney for the pro-gun group, said that news coverage of the search portrayed the organization in an unfavorable light to voters and may have contributed to approval of the gun control measure.

Mr. Fezell disagreed with yesterday's ruling, saying that his organization was directly affected by the behavior of city police officers.

"The investigation centered on events that occurred in our offices, affected our staff and interfered with our lawful election activities," he said. "It's like someone coming into your house at night while you're watching television."

He said that he may ask the court to reconsider its decision.

The city's Law Department represented the city and Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods, who were named parties in the matter. Neal M. Janey, city solicitor, could not be reached yesterday for comment.

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