If you call the police on someone without just cause you may find yourself the subject of a civil suit under legislation being considered by the Maryland General Assembly.
The bill, SB0363, Courts –Improperly Summoning a Police Officer –Civil Liability, would authorize a “certain civil action to be brought against a person who knowingly summons a police officer with the intent to infringe on the person’s constitutional rights, unlawfully discriminate against the person, cause the person to feel harassed or humiliated or to be expelled from a certain place, or damage a person’s reputation or certain other interests.”
Under the legislation, plaintiffs could be awarded statutory damages of $10,000 from each defendant found guilty of violating its provisions. The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City) and was previously introduced during the 2020 legislative session.
McCray emphasized to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Tuesday afternoon that the bill would only target those who demonstrated malicious intent when calling the police.
“This bill simply gives the right to create a civil action for damages against a person who knowingly and with specified intent called the police with the intention of harassment or things of that nature. We’ve seen this happen across the country,” McCray said at a virtual hearing.
Jo Saint-George, an attorney and civil rights advocate, echoed similar sentiments to that of McCray.
“Freedom does not mean that we can do anything we want without care to the outcome of our choices. Freedom of choice is both a great privilege and an enormous responsibility…Every citizen has the choice to call the police when there is a reasonably perceived threat of danger. However, when a perceived threat is not reasonable and it lacks any credibility-those individuals who choose to still call the police-particularly on people of color who have not done anything to be threatening or cause any harm to anyone must have consequences.”
But not everyone supported the bill.
Sen. Bob Cassilly (R-Harford) said the legislation would discourage well-meaning citizens from calling the police.
“Why is this not: ‘See something, shut up?’ I mean we went from: ‘See something, say something…’I don’t know why this isn’t saying: ‘If you see something, shut up.’ It was proposed that, well, before you call the police you should have reasonably perceived that you are in danger; which is like: ‘Well I can’t call the cops unless I have probable cause to make an arrest…Don’t we have to consider that this may cause folks to shut up when really we would prefer that they didn’t?”
McCray handily rejected Cassilly’s premise.
“I don’t think that it (the bill) goes in that direction. I think that it goes to the direction of those folks that are falsely called, knowingly, for the police…folks are using these race-based opportunities to weaponize our police departments to come out and address issues that are malicious and hurtful to individuals. This is not something that you see every day. This is very frequent in primarily African-American communities or communities where folks may feel like minorities don’t belong.”