Police and city officials in Baltimore said they cannot provide the emails of a top police commander who oversaw a controversial aerial surveillance program this year because his email account was not properly configured at the time and the records were not retained as required.
The lapse is now under review, the officials said.
Marcos Zarragoitia, former chief of the police department’s Homeland Security Division, resigned this fall after the city’s agreement with contractor Persistent Surveillance Systems became public. Zarragoitia oversaw the program.
Under the agreement, PSS — a private Ohio-based company — flew a small Cessna airplane high above the city over the course of several months, collecting more than 300 hours of surveillance of more than 32 square miles of the city at a time. The program was not initially disclosed to the public, then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the City Council, elected officials, local prosecutors or public defenders — many of whom rebuked the department for its lack of transparency.
Police are now reviewing the pilot program, and considering whether to make it permanent.
Police officials have declined to discuss the circumstances surrounding Zarragoitia’s resignation. He was hired on Sept. 10, 2015, and resigned Sept. 28, 2016. He could not be reached for comment.
After the surveillance program was revealed at the end of August, the Baltimore Sun filed a Public Information Act request for any emails mentioning it that were sent to or from several top police officials, including Zarragoitia.
In response, Brent D. Schubert, assistant solicitor in the police department’s legal affairs division, provided about 16 pages of emails, which revealed little about the program. He withheld emails from Legal Affairs Chief Glenn Marrow, as well as “substantive documents and communications” relating to several incidents in the city that were presumably captured in some way by the surveillance plane: a Feb. 23 nonfatal shooting, a June 25 nonfatal shooting, a July 11 nonfatal shooting, a July 11 homicide, and a July 19 homicide.
Schubert said the response also did not include any emails from Zarragoitia because Andrew Jaffee, the department’s information technology director, “could not access” those emails. Asked for clarification, Schubert said there was “a technical problem” that the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology, or MOIT, was “working with the vendor to resolve.”
The Sun then put additional questions to the police department and the office of Mayor Catherine E. Pugh regarding the nature and scope of the problem.
Pugh spokesman Anthony McCarthy said that, according to MOIT, the problem was limited to Zarragoitia.
“Upon accessing the system and searching the archive, it was determined that archiving for the specific individual requested [was] not configured in the archive manager,” he said.
Because they were not archived, they are “unable to be retrieved,” he said.
McCarthy and T.J. Smith, a police spokesman, said the city and the police department will be revisiting why Zarragoitia’s email account was not properly configured to retain emails in accordance with the law.
“We are very interested in drilling down to figure out exactly where this process went wrong,” McCarthy said. “We will rely on our Law Department to assess the situation and advise the mayor on where we can close any loops in this regard.”