Mutilation of Public Information Law

October 08, 1993

It is possible that the mutilation and slaughter of a 15-year-old palomino mare in Frederick County this week could have been prevented had more people known about a series of similar incidents in the past three months. But one crucial piece of the pattern was never publicized.

A similarly gruesome mutilation of a horse in Lisbon in Howard County was reported in detail shortly after it took place last Aug. 15. At the time, the grotesque assault appeared to be an isolated incident. However, on Sept. 4, another mare was mutilated in its stall at a Mount Airy farm in Carroll County. But no one was informed of that, because Carroll's resident state troopers didn't bother to let the public know.

State police say the officer who investigated the incident forgot to file the proper paperwork. "It was probably an oversight," said Sgt. Steven Reynolds, who serves as the public information officer for the State Police in Westminster.

While the lapse in reporting may not have been deliberate, the failure to release any information on this incident underscores a fundamental problem in the Westminster barrack's system for disclosing information to the public. Despite repeated attempts from both the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which runs the state police, and The Baltimore Sun to increase public access to routine information such as complaint logs and arrest reports, this barrack stubbornly refuses to obey Maryland's Public Information Law and open these files.

Unlike police departments in Baltimore and surrounding counties that acknowledge these routine records are indeed public information and allow reporters to review them, Carroll's resident troopers insist on restricting access. Rather than allow reporters to see for themselves what is and is not newsworthy, officers sift through their reports and select the ones to release. This is an exercise in information-control and should be halted promptly by State Police Superintendent Larry Tolliver.

Had a reporter seen the complaint about the mutilated Mount Airy horse, a story would have been written. The owners of the estimated 10,200 horses in Carroll County would have been put on alert and might have been able to help the State Police apprehend the culprits. Instead, the obvious pattern was never established.

Until the Westminster barrack opens its records, this type of mix-up will be repeated. And next time, the victim may not be a horse.

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