Archive for the ‘Loony denials’ Category


Journalist Handcuffed For Public Records Is Unacceptable

A journalist in Louisiana was taken away in handcuffs Wednesday while inquiring about the status of a state public records request submitted to the Town of White Castle in Louisiana.

Watch the video here.

You’ll see Chris Nakamoto, an anchor and investigative reporter for WBRZ-TV, the ABC affiliate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, remaining calm throughout the ordeal.

The station has been asking questions about a salary increase the Mayor of White Castle, Jermarr Williams appears to have received. According to WBRZ reports, Williams was earning $20.31 an hour but in November 2015, records show he was earning $24.44.

Attempting to find out if the local city council voted to increase Williams’ salary and wanting information about mileage reimbursements, Nakamoto submitted a request under the Louisiana Public Records Act.

The Act, allows any member of the public to view public records unless the records are determined to be exempt.

While inquiring about the missing portion of his request Wednesday, a security guard asks the journalist to leave. Nakamoto stresses, he is inside a public building, on public property and will not step outside. Next, the security guard cuffs Nakamoto and takes him to the police department. Nakamoto was charged with a misdemeanor.

Thursday, WBRZ reported, the final portion of the public records request was fulfilled. More on that here.

An email to Williams was not immediately answered.

Prohibiting the public and journalists from obtaining information that they are entitled to is unacceptable. To take it a step further and arrest someone, who is inquiring and asking questions about a request is ridiculous. As we know obtaining information is sometimes hard enough, but to worry that you might be charged or arrested while inquiring about a request is annoying and unnecessary.

This information belongs to the public and should be handed over easily.

SPJ does not support or encourage the arrest of journalists and members of the public, who are trying to obtain public information. SPJ also does not support or encourage public agencies and individuals who fight the release of public information.

If you experience this at any time, we encourage you to let us know. You can tweet directly to me, @LWalsh or @SPJ_Tweets.

Lynn Walsh is President-Elect of SPJ. She also serves on the FOI and Ethics committees. She is currently leading the investigative team at KNSD in San Diego, California. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information. Follow her on Twitter, @LWalsh or contact her via email: Lynn.K.Walsh@gmail.com.

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Must read FOI stories – 7/25/14

Every week I do a roundup of the freedom of information stories around the Web. If you have an FOI story you want to share, send me an email or tweet me.

  • The Electronic Privacy Information Center has sued the United States Customs and Border Protection to compel the agency to produce documents relating to a relatively new comprehensive intelligence database of people and cargo crossing the U.S. border.

David Schick is the summer 2014 Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern for SPJ,  reporting and researching public records and FOI issues. Contact him at dschick@spj.org or interact on Twitter: @davidcschick

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Must read FOI stories – 7/18/14

Every week I do a roundup of the freedom of information stories around the Web. If you have an FOI story you want to share, send me an email or tweet me.

Special congrats to the FOIA advocacy website MuckRock, they got a shout out from the Daily Show this week for one of their FOIA requests:

David Schick is the summer 2014 Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern for SPJ,  reporting and researching public records and FOI issues. Contact him at dschick@spj.org or interact on Twitter: @davidcschick

 

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FOI Daily Dose: Louisiana’s public records victory points to larger abuses of the law

A panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge upheld a judge’s ruling that Louisiana State University is not privy to the governor’s office public records exemption, according to The Associated Press.

LSU was using the governor’s “deliberative process” exemption to hide the names of three dozen candidates in its closed-door search for a new president. They hired former University of California-Long Beach President F. King Alexander, who started in June.

The Advocate and The Times-Picayune filed lawsuits seeking names of the other candidates. But LSU board members said keeping the names quiet allowed sitting chancellors and presidents to avoid jeopardizing their current positions.

After district judge Janice Clark ruled in April that the records are public and must be released, LSU requested the 1st Circuit Court review the decision, according to the AP. The court panel on July 19 supported Clark’s ruling.

“This is very good news, and we are thrilled,” Lori Mince, an attorney for The Advocate, told The AP.

But Mike Hasten, capital bureau chief for Gannett Louisiana newspapers, said this victory for open government advocates is only one in a long list of exemption abuses. He published an editorial in The News Star on July 20 explaining the larger problem about how LSU and other agencies are wrongfully using an exemption for the governor’s office to keep sensitive material out of public view.

Governor  Bobby Jindal backed legislation four years ago that removed a blanket exemption for the governor’s office from the public records law and replaced it with a provision called “deliberative process” that exempts “any documents or other types of communication used by the governor to make a decision,” Hasten said.

Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, told The Advocate lawmakers never intended the “deliberative process” claim to be used beyond the governor’s office.

The exemption specifically protects materials “relating to the deliberative process of the governor.” It said: “The provisions of this Section shall not apply to any agency, office, or department transferred or placed within the office of the governor.”

But even so, agencies using the exemption attribute their decision to a 2004 court ruling from the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal that allowed the Public Service Commission to shield some records from a legislative auditor. The Advocate said this decision had nothing to do with the public records law.

“They’re doing something outside of what it was intended to do, and that needs to be addressed,” Danahay told The Advocate.

Hasten said it’s up to the public to assert the public records law and challenge agencies when they misuse it.

“Because they have not been legally challenged on that and until a court says they can’t do it, they probably will keep doing it in violation of state law,” Hastens wrote for The News Star.

An attorney for LSU told the AP that LSU will return to Clark in state district court for her decision on the damages and attorney fees.

The AP said LSU will get its chance to appeal the decision, but it’s unclear whether they will ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to review the issue.

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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FOI Daily Dose: South Carolina court rules public bodies cannot use First Amendment to evade FOIA

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled July 17 that organizations supported by public funds cannot use the First Amendment to evade the state Freedom of Information Act, according to Greenville Online.

The opinion echoed a 1991 Supreme Court ruling when The Greenville News sought access to records of a University of South Carolina foundation, and the South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA) claimed disclosing the information violated their First Amendment rights to free speech and free association.

The 1991 ruling said organizations supported in whole or in part by public funds are public bodies subject to the FOIA.

But in the most recent legal dispute, radio personality Rocky Disabato claimed SCASA violated the public records law by refusing to meet his request for information about its role in a high-profile lawsuit against then-Gov. Mark Sanford over federal stimulus funds, according to The State.

The SCASA said state FOIA does not apply to them because even though they engage in public advocacy and receive some public funding, they operate as a non-profit organization, and the FOIA infringes their rights to free speech and association.

A Richland County Circuit Court judge agreed with the administrators and ruled that even though SCASA is a public body, it is not required to comply with FOIA laws.

Even so, the Supreme Court reversed the decision on grounds that the FOIA fosters trust in government and prevents fraud and corruption, The State said.

The court explained that without requiring public bodies to be subject to public scrutiny, agencies could “push agendas through third-party groups without scrutiny,” Greenville Online reports.

The court wrote: “If public bodies were not subject to the FOIA, governmental bodies could subvert the FOIA by funneling state funds to non-profit corporations so that those corporations could act, outside the public’s view, as proxies for the state.”

Writing for the majority, Justice Kaye G. Hearn recognized the negative impact the state FOIA might have on SCASA’s rights, and the court left it up to a lower court to decide if the SCASA is, in fact, a public body.

The decision said the FOIA does not apply to private entities that receive public funds for “a specific purpose,” such as a childcare center or healthcare clinic, The State said. Keith R. Powell, one of the attorneys representing SCASA, explained to The State in an email:

“The majority decision today is that IF a private entity is found to be a ‘public body,’ then it must still comply with the FOIA. The issue of whether or not SCASA is a ‘public body’ has not even been begun yet, and would be the subject of the remainder of the lawsuit back down in the circuit court . . . . Importantly, the court implicitly rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments that merely receiving any payments from the government, and/or merely being given some role in a public advisory committee, would automatically make a body ‘public’ under the FOIA.”

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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FOI Daily Dose: California reverses ruling on public records, New Mexico open government group fights for previously denied records

California to reverse ruling on public records

Pressure from reporters and open government advocates helped reverse legislation in California this week that threatened to make key parts of the state’s Public Records Act optional, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The California legislature passed Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal on June 14 with an inconspicuous trailer bill to help the state save money on reimbursing local governments when they fulfill records requests (see previous post).  The bill said agencies no longer needed to explain why they were unable to meet requests, and they could provide data in any form of their choosing.

Once the bill was passed, it attracted immediate criticism from news outlets and citizens who wrote editorials, emailed and called legislators en masse, according to the Times.

Public voices grew louder until Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) proposed legislation June 19 to rescind the bill’s negative side effects. But Pérez’s proposal was blocked in the Senate later that afternoon by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

Steinberg suggested passing the original legislation and then passing a constitutional amendment one year later to reinstate the records act and force local governments to pay for all its costs, the Times said (see another previous post).

But the one-year window of government secrecy induced more public outcry, so the legislature eventually agreed to pass both Pérez’s substitute bill and Steinberg’s constitutional amendment, calling it a short-term and a long-term solution.

Open government group in New Mexico fights for previously denied records

Freedom of information advocates in New Mexico are requesting previously denied records about the travel and expenses of Gov. Susana Martinez’s security detail during the 2012 election season, according to the ABQ Journal.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) filed an inspection of Public Records Act request July 25 for “the schedules of any overtime paid to and all travel expenses of officers” assigned to Martinez’s personal security team when she made several political trips in August-October 2012, the Journal said.

The Department of Public Safety and the Department of Finance and Administration previously denied records requests from The Associated Press on grounds that the information might compromise the security of Martinez and her family.

But FOG argues that the agencies’ decision to deny the request flies in the face of a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling (Republican Party of New Mexico v. New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department) that prohibited the state from withholding records unless they are specifically exempted from release under the Inspection of Public Records Act or other regulation.

“This is a troubling response because we do not think it reflects clear direction from New Mexico’s Supreme Court on an important issue of public access,” FOG acting executive director Janice Honeycutt told the Journal. “We would urge the agency to comply and avoid a costly legal battle in which the taxpayers will likely pick up the tab.”

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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Student journalists at Ohio university fight for access to records they once had

otterbein students

Evan Matsumoto, left, manages the Tan & Cardinal’s website. Lindsay Paulsen is the newspaper’s print production editor. (Photo provided by Hillary Warren)

Student reporters at Otterbein University in Ohio are fighting for access to campus police records.

It’s a battle Mark Goodman has seen play out many times as a former director of the Student Press Law Center, and he said it usually ends in favor of university police.

But Goodman said the dispute at Otterbein is different. In this case, students are fighting for records they once received. That’s one reason Otterbein’s newspaper, the Tan & Cardinal, is willing to try its luck in court.

“It’s not that students are suddenly asking for things they didn’t used to ask for; students are simply asking for the same type of reports they used to get,” said Hillary Warren, the paper’s adviser.

Police reports are important to the news staff because they publish a weekly crime log that alerts students about crimes on campus, according to former Tan & Cardinal editor Lindsey Hobbs.

She joined the staff in 2009 when police in the city of Westerville responded to serious crimes on Otterbein’s campus and managed the incident reports for those calls. Hobbs said Westerville police provided students with complete reports including the names and phone numbers of people involved, so student reporters could write full articles about important incidents.

But when Otterbein’s campus security force converted to an official police department in July 2011, they took charge of the reports previously handled by Westerville police, and Hobbs said that’s when reports started shrinking from packets to one-page responses.

“They would have a brief summary of the incident and maybe the dorm where it occurred, but no other information,” Hobbs said. “When there was disorderly conduct, we used to know every detail. Now we’re getting information like, ‘Student caught fighting other student at dorm.’”

The first year, police reports withered to two or three sentences. Then in fall of 2012, they stopped coming all together.

“(The police) suddenly said, ‘No more records at all,’” Hobbs said. “They told us, ‘We’re a private police force, so we don’t have to give you those records,’ and we were all pretty shocked.”

Although this year’s editor Lindsay Paulsen admits serious crimes are few and far between on Otterbein’s 3,000-student campus, she said the police’s privacy policy makes it difficult for reporters to investigate and analyze when these crimes occur.

“Otterbein is the type of place where a lot of times stuff is pretty mundane, but we don’t know what we don’t know,” Paulsen said.

Otterbein Chief of Police Larry Banaszak told the Westerville News & Public Opinion in February that police records were suddenly sealed because a representative from the Ohio Attorney General’s office told the police they were not subject to the Ohio Public Records Act at a training course that fall.

Otterbein sought a second opinion from Ohio lawyer John W. Herbert in March who agreed that the university is exempt because there is not enough “clear and convincing evidence” to prove their new police department is a “public office.”

According to the 2006 Ohio Supreme Court decision State ex rel. Oriana House, Inc. v. Montgomery, a public office: 1) performs a government function; 2) receives government funding: 3) has government involvement or regulation;  and 4) was created by the government, or created to avoid the requirements of the Public Records Act.

Herbert said since neither Otterbein nor the police department are publicly funded, and since the department is governed by Otterbein’s Board of Trustees (not a government agency), the Public Records Act does not apply.

But Warren and the Tan & Cardinal staff argue that since Otterbein police assumed the duties of the Westerville police on campus and exercise full police powers in the city of Westerville, they are the functional equivalent of the city police.

“We told them, ‘You are performing the duty of a public office,’” Hobbs said.

Goodman agrees with the staff, saying the university’s decision to withhold once-open records only makes it look like they have something to hide.

“This is information that everyone admits was public when incidents were handled by Westerville police,” Goodman said. “There’s no logical reason why Otterbein should choose to not release information whether they feel legally obligated or not.”

The university’s official policy on disclosure explains that they’re reluctant to give student reporters records about serious crimes on campus because the victims of those crimes, such as sexual assault, might not want their classmates to know.

“We value our student’s privacy and respect their wishes not to have their names publicized,” the statement said. “Victims of sexual assaults often feel embarrassed and traumatized and in many cases report being traumatized a second time when seeing their names in student media publications.”

Even so, the university maintains that campus police fulfill Clery Act requirements in these sensitive scenarios by issuing a text warning about crimes that pose a perceived threat and by reporting incidents in the university’s Clery Report.

But Tan & Cardinal reporters think these measures are not enough to keep the student body safe and informed.

“When campus police aren’t providing detailed accounts, it’s hard to know what serious crimes are evading student awareness,” said Tan & Cardinal news editor Katie Taggart.

As associate news editor last year, Taggart was responsible for contacting campus police to fill out a weekly crime log in the news section. She said she sent a student reporter to the police department every week for an incident report, and every week, the student returned empty handed.

The Tan & Cardinal is still seeking police records this summer, warning the university that if campus policy doesn’t change, they’re willing to sue. So far neither party has taken legal action.

“There seems to be very few concrete answers in all this, but knowing what you do have access to, what you don’t have access to and what the law says is important,” Paulsen said.

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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FOI Daily Dose: NJ Senate votes on transparency protections; Philadelphia reporters hit hurdles over building collapse records

New Jersey Senate votes on open records, open meetings protections

The New Jersey Press Association is supporting two measures for a state Senate vote this week that would offer greater protections for government transparency, according to the Times of Trenton.

Sens. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Joseph Pennacchio (R-Morris) sponsored a measure that offers three amendments to the Open Public Records Act and another measure that updates provisions in the Open Public Meetings Law.

Under new amendments to the Open Public Records Act, state government workers will no longer be able to redact, or blot out, information in public documents unless they can cite a “specific and lawful basis” for each redaction, the Times said.

Government workers must also alert those requesting information when they can access it for free online instead of paying for copies, and government agencies must post contact information for their custodian of records on their websites to simplify the requesting process.

Updates to the Open Public Meetings Law require agencies and organizations to post meeting schedules online and prohibit officials from communicating privately during the meeting via text messages or other means that the public cannot witness.

The Times notes the amendments allow a special surcharge to help local governments regain costs for “voluminous” requests and offer mechanisms to prevent those requesting information from abusing the system for commercial data mining.

 Philadelphia reporters hit hurdles in public records race

Philadelphia journalists seeking records and information in the wake of a deadly building collapse are hitting procedural and legal hurdles in the city’s public records system, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

After part of a Salvation Army thrift shop wall collapsed June 5, killing six people, after which a city building inspector committed suicide, reporters have requested information related to the incident, and their requests have been met with notoriously long “pending” processes that sometimes take six weeks.

The Inquirer said some delays stem from City Solicitor Shelly R. Smith’s “unpublicized decision” in February to restrict access to detailed explanations for millions of dollars in city legal settlements that have been considered public information for at least 30 years.

Smith’s decision limits access to memos and similar evaluations written by city attorneys describing the “factual circumstances and the reasons for paying tax dollars to resolve all sorts of legal claims against the city,” according to the Inquirer.

The Law Department allegedly ruled such memos are privileged communication between lawyers and clients, and public records experts interviewed by the Inquirer agreed that the memos could be exempt from the state’s right-to-know law as legal advice.

Even so, Melissa Melewsky, a media law counsel with the Pennsylvania News Media Association, questioned why the state’s policy would suddenly change when this information was subject to public access for decades.

“If it’s always been public in the past, it should remain public,” Melewsky told the Inquirer. “But I can’t say you’ll win that battle in court.”

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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Seattle Times watchdog waits 11 months for police’s purposefully withheld memo

Mike Carter

Seattle Times reporter Mike Carter (courtesy of Mike Carter)

Mike Carter is proud to call himself a watchdog at The Seattle Times.

After all, they’re an endangered breed in U.S. newsrooms, where tight budgets mean tighter leashes on reporters likely to rack up hefty legal fees in their investigations and exposures.

But in his latest bout to obtain public information from the Seattle Police Department, Carter earned $20,000 for the Times without ever setting foot in court.

After a quest for a police memorandum lingered on for 11 months, Carter learned the department purposefully withheld it from the Times, violating Washington’s Public Records Act, so the police paid the Times a settlement to avoid a lawsuit.

Even so, Carter says when it comes to purging public information from government agencies and law enforcement, it’s never about the money.

“It’s a principle sort of thing,” Carter said.

On May Day 2012, a day of violent workers’ rights demonstrations, Carter and fellow reporter Steve Miletich were on the story, and by 11 a.m. Carter could tell the police weren’t prepared.

Earlier that morning, Assistant Chief Mike Sanford intercepted control of police operations and confused officers when he limited how much pepper spray they could use. He also told them not to make any arrests in the uproarious crowd.

As a noontime march grew increasingly violent, protesters tore through traffic, smashing storefronts and car windows with sticks.

When the police arrived, Sanford further complicated matters by charging the crowd in his business attire— white button up, black pants and dress shoes—without any protective gear.

poy_32

Seattle Police carry off a participant in a May Day rally near Pike Place Market on May 1, 2012. (photo by John Lok)

He was assaulted, and other officers had to use force to rescue him, upsetting the community that the police’s own officer diverted their attention from protesters pillaging the streets.

Having reported on the police department since 2000, Carter knew Seattle Police Precinct Capt. Joe Kessler would be furious. At the time of the protests, Seattle police were already under the watchful eye of the Justice Department for their “unnecessary and excessive” use of force in a series of 2009-2010 incidents. Mishandling May Day only made matters worse.

Sources told Carter that Kessler sent a scathing internal memorandum to two police officers criticizing the department’s rash actions.

As more sources mentioned the “Kessler memo,” Carter began to see it as the missing puzzle piece the public needed to understand how their law enforcement had failed them.

Since it was subject to public disclosure, he was determined to wrestle it free from the control of police who held it out of view.

After SPD Chief John Diaz mentioned the memo, Carter and Miletich published an article on July 23, 2012 telling the public everything he knew about it. Carter purposefully filed a public disclosure request the same day.

“We wanted to amp the pressure up and shake the memo loose,” Carter said.

Sources told him the memo was only addressed to deputy chiefs Nick Metz and Clark Kimerer, so when Carter filed for disclosure, he cast a net “clearly intended to capture the Kessler memo,” asking for all emails, attachments, documents and memoranda involving May Day planning and response from all SPD captains and lieutenants involved.

He thought it would be easy to get because there’s no exemption in the Public Records Act for embarrassment.

“That’s what the Kessler memo was—embarrassment,” Carter said. “They had a captain being specifically critical of his superior over what could be called a debacle in their department.”

According to protocol, the department sent him a letter July 30 acknowledging they’d received his request, but they twice delayed their deadline to disclose the information until Sept. 17.

That’s when the documents started pouring in.

For the next eight months, Carter and Miletich combed through pages upon pages of tangled email strings and repetitive police reports. But the Kessler memo was still missing.

Carter suspected the police were waiting to reveal the memo until they filed their own (long overdue) after action report to counterbalance bad press the memo might arouse.

But when the SPD finally released their report on April 3, 2013, the Kessler memo never came.

Instead, Carter got an email from the department, saying they had fulfilled his request, and they were closing it.

At first he thought it was a mistake.

“I thought they forgot because I could not believe they were not going to actually give it to me,” Carter said.

He filed an email appeal with Diaz that morning, and when he confronted Diaz at a city council meeting that afternoon, the officer admitted the department intentionally withheld the memo. He sent Carter a copy later that day.

“But at that point, the damage had been done,” Carter said. “They were in clear violation of the law.”

That’s when decisions about the newspaper’s next steps fell to Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman, who met with  First Amendment attorney Eric Stahl and Times investigations editor James Neff.

“We came to the very quick conclusion that we couldn’t let the SPD get away with it,” Boardman said. “It was so blatant that we really had to call them on it.”

The Times sent a letter of intent to the police department on May 9 telling them they had a choice: either they could pay a $20,000 settlement or the Times would take them to court.

Boardman said the SPD was “quickly responsive and surprisingly open.” They worked with the Times’ attorney to pay the fee.

“We were not interested in asking for that amount of money to enrich us in any way or make tax payers angry with us,” Boardman said. “But we did want a big enough number to pay (potential) legal bills and send a clear message to the department that said, ‘You can’t get away with this. Don’t do it again.’”

Boardman gives credit to the Times’ owners for never shying away from costly legal disputes.

He said stories like Carter’s and Miletich’s are every news organization’s best defense against government agencies and public employees unions who are always looking to limit public access to records and free information.

“We’re able to pull out important investigative stories and successfully fight off those changes,” Boardman said. “We tell them, ‘You can’t do that because then we can’t tell these stories.’”

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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Connecticut Legislature bars access to records in murder cases in wake of Newtown shootings

Taking a page from Utah’s HB477 debacle, Connecticut lawmakers pushed through a secretly-drafted bill gutting part of the state’s open-records law with little public input.

As reported by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Lawmakers approved legislation this week that makes photos and video of murder victims private records, as well as bar 911 recordings where someone discusses the conditions of murder victims.

The law, which went into effect immediately, also requires the requester to make the case that the documents should be public, rather than having the bureaucrats prove that the records shouldn’t be released.

The legislation was drafted secretly by Gov. Dannel Malloy’s staff, the state’s top prosecutors and legislative leaders. It went through the legislature without public hearings. There was one change made though: The original bill only applied to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but was expanded to cover all murders.

“My goal with this legislation was to provide some measure of protection for the families affected by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” Malloy was quoted as saying.

The idea was to prevent the crime-scene pictures from popping up on the Internet. While one could argue that was a good intention, we all know which road is paved in good intentions.

The law is bad for multiple reasons.

First, as SPJ President-Elect David Cuillier pointed out, it sets the dangerous precedent of holding back public records because their contents might disturb somebody.

As a former emergency medical technician, I can understand why some of the Sandy Hook parents may not want to see crime-scene pictures of their children. But, that is not enough of a reason to alter a foundational principle of our form of government, access to public documents.

The massacre was horrific, but it has also become politically charged as well as historically significant. In this case, it is important to have access to all the records of the event to ensure that the historical record is correct and keep demagogues on either side of the debate from distorting it for selfish reasons.

The law is based on the assumption that whoever requests the documents is going to splash them all over the Internet or on newspaper pages. That is a rather bold assumption, one that puts the governor and the Legislature in the unconstitutional position of playing super-editor over the state’s media. Most journalists would use the records as research documents, providing background and context for the information.

And if there is a case for running it, it should be left to the individual news outlet to decide. In some cases, a 911 recording can illustrate the horror, chaos or even the bravery that occurred during a tragedy far better than a reporter’s attempt to summarize it. It might offend some people, but that is a call journalists should make and not politicians who may be looking to score points with the public.

Censorship and locking up records is never the right response to what one perceives as bad speech. The only response should be more speech.

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