FOI Daily Dose: Mississippi sheriff denies access to records not involving taxpayer money

A Mississippi sheriff denied The Sun Herald access to flight records and fuel costs of sheriff’s helicopters because the helicopters are not funded by taxpayer money, The Herald reports.

When the newspaper requested the records for Jackson County’s two military surplus helicopters, Sheriff Mike Byrd said the records are not subject to the Mississippi Public Records Act because the money needed to secure, maintain and fly them comes from money the Sheriff’s Department gets from forfeited possessions bought on drug money.

Even so, state law requires public bodies to submit in writing the exemption they are using to deny a records request, and The Herald said Byrd did not respond to repeated requests for him to cite an exemption.

Gulfport attorney Henry Laird, who specializes in First Amendment and public-access issues, told The Herald even if the helicopters are bought on forfeited money, the information about them is still subject to the public records act.

“The sheriff of Jackson County is a public body under the Mississippi Public Records Act,” Laird told The Herald. “As such, the sheriff has a duty to give the public and the press copies of all public records requested. The records the Sun Herald has requested are public records. For the sheriff to say flight records and fuel records are exempt is wrong. The same is true for forfeiture records. They are public record.”

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

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