A Superior Court judge has ordered the Maine State Police to provide the state’s two biggest newspapers with previously concealed parts of disciplinary records detailing misconduct and rule-breaking by its troopers.

In a May 26 ruling, Judge William R. Anderson of Penobscot Superior Court also ordered the Maine State Police to search for and turn over missing disciplinary records the state failed to release in response to public records requests from the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News.

Anderson sided with police, however, in defending redactions that may reveal confidential medical data.

“We got what we really needed,” said Stephen Stich, supervising attorney at Yale Law School’s Media Freedom & Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School, which helped the newspapers file their suit. “We’ll not only find out why these officers were disciplined, but we could get the missing records, too.”

The ruling did not say when the Maine State Police must provide the papers with the unredacted records, or how long the agency has to conduct a new search for the missing disciplinary records. The agency may even appeal the ruling. A state police spokeswoman did not respond to calls or emails Tuesday seeking an interview.

The lawsuit, which combined separate complaints filed by both newspapers, centers on records requests filed under the state’s Freedom of Access Act seeking final decisions of discipline for all Department of Public Safety employees between 2015 and 2019.


Final disciplinary measures against public employees, including police, are public records in Maine.

In response to the request, the state handed over documents involving disciplinary cases of 22 officers. But in 13 of those cases, the records were either too heavily redacted or too vague to provide any meaningful description of the conduct that gave rise to the discipline.

The state refused to cite a specific legal justification for each redaction in the records, saying that to do so would reveal the contents of the redacted sections. It also did not provide all disciplinary records referenced in the released information or information about an unknown number of inactive disciplinary measures.

During the investigation, the Maine State Police revealed that some final disciplinary actions were removed from trooper personnel files after a period of time, ranging from as little as a year for minor infractions and preventable accidents to five years for demotions and serious infractions.

Police lawyers say they cannot find all of these “inactive” files, and the court can’t be sure they were not destroyed, which is prohibited under Maine’s record retention laws. Anderson has ordered a second review for these missing inactive disciplinary records.

The newspapers published a three-day series revealing the nature of misconduct in the ranks of the state police based on the records the police provided. The reporting showed a secretive process in which misconduct records are only briefly available to the public before they are destroyed. The lack of disclosure prevented public accountability of the troopers and the department’s disciplinary process.


State police redacted substantive descriptions of what some officers did to warrant punishment.

The reporting and the lawsuit were supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School, where law students help media organizations advocate for greater government transparency through legal action.

Sigmund Schutz of Preti Flaherty, the lawyer representing the Press Herald, was pleased with the ruling.

“This is a terrific win for government transparency and police accountability,” Schutz said.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.