The Baltimore Sun filed a lawsuit against the city police Wednesday, alleging that the agency "routinely ignores" requests for public information and demands high fees for records when pressed to provide them.
The suit, filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, asks for a judgment and injunction, not monetary damages.
The Sun's complaint alleges that the Baltimore Police Department ignored seven applications by reporters to see records, from a file on a closed homicide case to a list of lawsuits filed against the police.
Pressed by Sun attorneys, the agency responded in June - a year after the oldest request had been made - by directing the newspaper to forward the requests to commanding officers or other agencies, the suit alleges. The department also warned that it would charge fees for the information and would not let reporters inspect the records first to see what copies would be needed, according to the complaint. One such charge: $1,250 for a year of police reports about rapes.
The Sun declined to pay the fee and has not obtained the information.
"The Sun has long held a standard of aggressively pursuing public information for its readers," J. Montgomery Cook, the newspaper's editor, said in a statement. "To that end, we do not think it is in the best interest of the citizens of Baltimore to have the city Police Department erecting arbitrary barriers for access to public information."
The Police Department's chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on the allegations.
"We understand the importance of transparency," he said.
Nathan Siegel, an attorney for The Sun, said access to city police records has deteriorated in the past year. He said Maryland's Public Information Act requires agencies to respond to requests promptly, allow citizens to inspect public records and make copies for a "reasonable" fee - or waive the fee when it's in the public interest.
"The Police Department has got to follow the law," Siegel said.