Eleven people and the state ACLU sued Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold on Wednesday, contending that the county illegally compiled files about citizens on Leopold's alleged "enemies list," then refused to release the information collected.
The civil complaint alleges that Leopold, his office and the county Police Department broke two provisions of Maryland's public records laws, first by creating the files and then by not turning them over to people who suspected they were targets.
"The facts are clear that Anne Arundel County Executive Leopold ordered his executive detail and other county employees to try to dig up dirt," Deborah Jeon, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said in a statement. "Now, the time has come for Mr. Leopold and the County to come clean about how, why, and against whom these illegal activities were carried out."
Leopold's spokesman Dave Abrams declined to comment on the lawsuit filed in Anne Arundel Circuit Court, but he pointed out that the administration released some files in response to the ACLU's five public records requests. Abrams said there is not an "enemies list" to release.
The lawsuit asks for the original copies of the files, for all other copies to be destroyed and for an unspecified cash award to people whose lives were allegedly documented illegally by county police.
Plaintiffs include the head of the county branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the chief of the Maryland attorney general's Office of Civil Rights, community leaders, a former school board member, an attorney who filed a sexual discrimination case against Leopold and three women who filed formal complaints about Leopold's conduct.
The "enemies list" allegations first became public in a March 2 criminal indictment against Leopold that accused the two-term Republican of misusing his security detail for personal and political gain. In addition to accusations that he used detectives to ferry him to sexual rendezvous and to uproot campaign signs, the indictment said Leopold directed officers to create dossiers on at least two people. Neither had committed a crime nor did they pose a security risk to the county executive, the indictment said.
A trial in the criminal case is scheduled next month. Leopold has denied wrongdoing and vowed to fight the charges.
One of the plaintiffs in the civil case, state worker Marvenise Harris, spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday about a 2009 incident in which she alleges Leopold harassed her for her phone number at a cafeteria — an altercation her attorneys said made her a target for the "enemies list."
Harris said in an interview that Leopold peppered her with personal questions in the lunch line and blocked her way to the cash register when she declined to give him her personal number.
"I couldn't move, and he wouldn't take no for answer," Harris said. She said Leopold also gestured toward his body "from his chest down to his private area" and made a comment that made her uncomfortable.
"He said, 'You're going to turn down all of this?' I'll never forget it," Harris said.
Leopold, through a spokesman, declined to discuss Harris' comments. He has denied that he harassed her.
Harris said she joined the suit after an ACLU attorney told her they believed Leopold had police compile information on her after she filed an internal complaint. In April, former Deputy Police Chief Lt. Col. Emerson C. Davis testified under oath to the County Council that he saw the file compiled on Harris and challenged then-Chief James Teare Sr. about its legitimacy. Teare shredded the documents after Davis suggested it was illegal to compile records that had no law-enforcement purpose, Davis testified.
The ACLU contends other records show police officers improperly accessed a criminal database to gather information on citizens, including community activist Lewis Bracy.
Bracy, a former National Security Agency police officer, said he has no connection to Leopold except for a friendship with Carl O. Snowden, a longtime civil rights activist who has been at odds with Leopold.
"I felt personally invaded," Bracy said.
In a response to the ACLU's records request earlier this year, the county has acknowledged that Leopold's security detail maintained "30 files and three sets of other loose records" on "individuals and groups" for "law enforcement investigative purposes."
The ACLU lawsuit alleges those records were created for political or personal purposes, that the county failed to turn over all the records and suggests that some may have been destroyed. The county has told the ACLU that some records were being withheld because they related to the criminal prosecution against Leopold.