The Maine State Police withheld information about nine separate times it disciplined its employees for misconduct over a five-year period. It ultimately took a lawsuit from two Maine newspapers to force the state’s largest police agency to turn over the undisclosed discipline records, which it did late Friday afternoon more than two years after the newspapers requested them.
In a lawsuit filed last year, the Bangor Daily News and Portland Press Herald argued that key portions of discipline records provided to the newspapers were unlawfully redacted and that some of the records referred to additional disciplinary actions that had not been handed over, with the result that important information about police misconduct remained hidden.
On May 31, a Superior Court judge ordered the state police to lift the redactions and do another search for records of misconduct, which are public under Maine law. Days later, the state police turned over unredacted documents revealing how officials covered up descriptions of misconduct as well as vague language that continued to obscure the reasons officers were punished.
On Friday the police force fulfilled the remaining request of the judge to hand over the discipline records it had originally failed to make public. The disclosure marked the end of a costly, time-consuming process of requesting basic public information about those who hold positions of public trust.
It appears the state police did not originally turn over records that had been removed from personnel files under a union contract, according to a letter of explanation filed with Penobscot County Superior Court on Friday by the attorney general’s office, which represented the state police in court.
Under their union agreement, troopers can request that the state police remove corrective memorandums, reprimands and suspensions from their personnel files after varying periods of time. But those documents are still considered public records.
Assistant Attorney General Kelly Morrell did not answer questions from the BDN about why law enforcement officials failed to turn over the additional documents until now, how the state police intended to correct its practices in dealing with records requests, and whether anyone had been disciplined for providing an incomplete set of records.
Nearly all of the nine records, for eight employees, documented minor punishments for mostly driving-related policy violations.
Between 2016 and 2019, the agency disciplined six troopers — one of them twice in a two-month period — a detective and a specialist at the Bureau of Identification. They were punished for unsafe or distracted driving, using a state laptop to instant message about personal affairs and failing to properly request time away from the office, the records show.
The agency also provided a final opinion from the state labor relations board affirming a trooper’s demotion for retaliating against another two troopers, which already existed in the public record but the agency still had an obligation to turn over.