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Troopers are still profiling, lawsuit claims

Echoing decades-old racial profiling allegations, a Philadelphia man says Maryland State Police troopers stopped him three times in two months because he is black, then pursued trumped-up charges that cost him 20 days in jail after he filed a Public Information Act request for details of the stops.

David K. Martin, a 27-year-old radiologic technologist, claims his experiences on I-95 in Cecil County were consistent with the MSP’s “long history” of stopping and searching people of color along the East Coast artery.

Racial profiling was addressed in a 1995 legal settlement and consent decrees in 2003 and 2008; however, the NAACP and ACLU are in the midst of an open-records case to determine whether the state police are abiding by the settlement.

Martin’s attorney, Seth A. Rosenthal, a partner in Venable LLP’s Washington office, also serves as lead counsel in the open-records case, which is pending before the Maryland’s highest court.

Rosenthal declined to comment on the lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, saying only that “the pleadings speak for themselves.”

In his complaint, Martin rejects a trooper’s stated explanation for one of the stops:

“Contrary to his allegations, Defendant [Christopher] Conner did not stop Mr. Martin on December 9, 2009 because Mr. Martin was speeding and did not search Mr. Martin’s car on December 9, 2009 because he detected ‘the faint odor of marijuana,’” the 13-count, 30-page suit states. “Defendant Conner stopped, detained and searched Mr. Martin and his car on December 9, 2009, because of Mr. Martin’s race or color.”

That stop — Martin’s third run-in with the troopers — occurred as he was driving to Baltimore from the courthouse in Cecil County, where a gun charge from the first stop had been dropped.

MSP spokesman Gregory M. Shipley emphasized Martin’s claims are “alleged” and said the agency will “vigorously defend the actions of our troopers in court.”

“We have certainly been attentive to this issue and complied with all aspects of the consent decree for years,” Shipley said. “It was to assure people that there was no racial profiling going on and to prohibit the perception of that from occurring. We continue to do an incredible about to monitor this issue.”

Raquel M. Guillory, spokeswoman for the Office of the Maryland Attorney General, which represents the MSP in litigation, declined to comment, citing office policy regarding pending cases.

Black box

According to the suit, Martin was traveling to his fiancée’s family home near Baltimore on Oct. 12, 2009, when Trooper Jeremiah Gussoni, the other named defendant, pulled him over for, among other reasons, speeding and making an unsafe lane change.

After Conner arrived as backup, the troopers found a handgun in Martin’s waistband and arrested him.

Martin claims he legally purchased and registered the gun, and these searches were illegal, as evidenced by prosecution’s decision not to proceed with the gun charges.

Martin was stopped again on Nov. 2, 2009, for the same reasons but was let go with a warning, according to the suit, which did not name a trooper.

After that, Martin bought a “Smart Black Box” to record a car’s speed, GPS coordinates and the view from the front windshield, the complaint says.

The device was recording on Dec. 9, 2009, when Martin’s rental car with New York plates was stopped by Trooper Conner at nearly the same point along I-95.

Conner said Martin was speeding; Martin’s box says he wasn’t. Conner also claimed he smelled marijuana and called for backup to search the car, which turned up no contraband.

Martin received a warning and was let go.

Concerned he was being profiled, Martin sent the MSP a Public Information Act request in February 2010 seeking records related to the December stop.

“One day after the MSP received the PIA request, according to an affidavit Defendant Gussoni executed, Defendant Gussoni suddenly began making efforts to revive the gun possession charges against Mr. Martin that the State of Maryland had nolle prossed three months earlier,” the suit states.

On March 19, 2010, two weeks after the MSP received another PIA request from Martin concerning the October stop, Gussoni submitted an application for statement of charges to a Cecil County commissioner.

The trooper sought to revive the previous gun charge and lodge a more serious charge of “transporting a regulated firearm for unlawful sale of trafficking,” according to the suit.

The basis for the latter charge, according to the suit, was that a suspected straw purchaser had once bought Martin’s gun.

The commissioner issued a warrant for Martin’s arrest.

Even though Martin had, with an attorney, tried to negotiate his surrender, according to the suit, Gussoni reported him as a fugitive to Pennsylvania law enforcement, leading to his arrest at his North Philadelphia home on March 24, 2010.

He was held on a $500,000 bond and charged as a fugitive in possession of a firearm, according to the suit.

He was released pending trial on April 12, 2010, acquitted of the Maryland charges on Aug. 13, 2010, and acquitted of the Pennsylvania charge on Jan. 19, 2011, the complaint says.

Martin’s complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as unspecified compensatory and punitive damages on counts ranging from constitutional violations to evidence fabrication and conspiracy.