The Portland Press Herald is suing the Maine State Police to force it to unredact records documenting officer misconduct, making it the second Maine news organization to do so in less than a month. The Bangor Daily News filed suit Jan. 28.
MTM Acquisition Inc., which publishes the Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, argued in its Tuesday complaint in Cumberland County Superior Court that the state police violated the Maine Freedom of Access Act, which aims to promote government transparency, when it redacted officer discipline records without cause.
The news organization also argued that the state police did not disclose all public records that fell within the scope of the newspaper’s public records request and, when asked, failed to document the reasons why it redacted specific parts of the documents.
Maine law states that “the final written decision” about public employees’ discipline “is no longer confidential after the decision is completed if it imposes or upholds discipline.” Last year, both the Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News sought these final disciplinary decisions from the state police. Both newspapers ultimately received five years of records that blacked out specific descriptions of misconduct.
Sigmund Schutz, the Press Herald’s attorney, argued that with public service comes public accountability, especially for police who have the power to make arrests, detain people and use force.
“Public awareness of whether law enforcement agencies are engaged in effective oversight and discipline of officers serves as a vital check on police corruption and misconduct — an interest at the core of what [the Maine Freedom of Access Act] is all about,” he wrote in the complaint.
The Press Herald also gave notice that its proceeding may be consolidated with the Bangor Daily News’ lawsuit.
Some costs of the Bangor Daily News' lawsuit are supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.