News

Format: 2015-07-04
Format: 2015-07-04
July 2, 2015
Police disciplinary files are exempt from the Maryland Public Information Act, the Maryland Court of Appeals said in a 5-2 ruling on Thursday. The majority noted that the law exempts personnel information from disclosure and does not make a distinction based on whether a citizen’s complaint is “sustained” or “unsustained.” It said that mandatory disclosure of the findings could have a chilling effect on the disciplinary process.
June 29, 2015
The following was prepared by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital, District of Columbia Office of Open Government/Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, D.C. Police Union, D.C. Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the D.C. Open Government Coalition. Mayor Muriel Bowser, in April, proposed outfitting every patrol officer with a body-worn camera to record interactions with the public. She announced the expansion at her State of the District address, claiming “[a]ccountability is embedded, and will be embedded in everything this administration does.” The goals were to improve interactions with civilians, assist investigations of officer misconduct, and promote public trust of the MPD. The cost: $5.1 million in fiscal year 2016 and a blanket exemption denying the public access to the videos.
June 18, 2015
Evidence from an ongoing Freedom of Information Act trial has shed light on how the Federal Bureau of Investigation handles FOIA requests from the public. The case, Trentadue v. FBI, was filed by Jesse Trentadue in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah after the FBI failed to turn over videotapes of the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City in 1995. In the Reporters Committee's experience, it is rare for FOIA cases to go to trial - cases are usually settled or disposed of though pre-trial motions.
June 12, 2015
The Federal Bureau of Prisons's categorical justification of redactions in a freedom of information suit filed by Prison Legal News was not appropriate, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled last week. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief in the case. In FOIA cases, the government has the burden of showing that an exemption is warranted. The prison bureau initially produced no records and denied PLN’s request for a fee waiver after PLN filed a FOIA request in 2003 seeking all documents related to the money the bureau paid in connection with lawsuits and claims brought against the bureau from January 1, 1996, to July 31, 2003.
June 11, 2015
Little Rock Metropolitan Housing Alliance Executive Director Rodney Forte was charged last November with violating Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Last Thursday, Forte was found guilty and convicted of a Class C misdemeanor. Judge Alice F. Lightle described Forte’s actions as a “negligent violation of the FOIA” and sentenced him to pay a $100 fine and an additional $140 in court costs.
June 11, 2015
On Monday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously denied an effort to overturn a lower court’s ruling that cleared the way for a lawsuit to obtain records on the botched execution of Clayton Lockett. Ziva Branstetter, an Oklahoma-based reporter for The Frontier, and Tulsa World filed the lawsuit in December against Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and Oklahoma Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson for withholding public records requested under the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
June 9, 2015
As states begin to implement laws requiring police officers to wear body cameras, lawmakers now struggle with the question of who should be given access to the recordings. Many states have already proposed legislation that will withhold bodycam footage from the public. As outraged civil liberties activists try to prevent this legislation from passing, many are forcing state legislatures to consider bills that allow for a greater degree of public access. In many states, citizens have the ability to request copies of footage from police worn body cameras through their state’s public record law. However, fear of privacy issues that this new technology may create is causing a rush to propose broad categorical FOIA exemptions of body camera footage, perpetuating the current barrier between many law enforcement officials and the public.
June 8, 2015
A coalition of media organizations led by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press prevailed today in an effort to unseal documents related to the sentencing of retired general David H. Petraeus, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In April, Petraeus pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina to one misdemeanor charge related to sharing classified information with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Petraeus was sentenced to two years of probation and a $100,000 fine.
June 5, 2015
The question of whether the federal Freedom of Information Act is an effective tool was hotly debated at a two-day hearing held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this week. Requesters answered emphatically that the FOIA process is broken, but agency employees disagreed. FOIA requesters including reporters and watchdog groups testified before the committee on Tuesday, addressing the FOIA barriers they’ve encountered, including backlogs, request delays, excessive redactions, and unreasonable fees.
June 5, 2015
Regulators will keep rules requiring the public disclosure of certain information about trains transporting crude oil intact, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration announced last week. The Department of Transportation had previously announced on May 1 that it would phase out the temporary rules, which were enacted on May 7, 2014, a week after a major oil train derailment in Lynchburg, Va.
June 3, 2015
When the Dallas Police Department released its policy in May on the right of the press and public to records its officers, the media were left scrambling to figure out what had changed between when the policy was drafted and circulated and when it was released officially.
May 28, 2015
In a disappointing ruling today, the Washington Supreme Court struck down the state’s anti-SLAPP law in its entirety, holding that it violates the right to trial by jury under the Washington Constitution. The decision marks the first time an anti-SLAPP law has been held unconstitutional. The Washington law, RCW 4.24.525, required judges to weigh the disputed facts of cases and dismiss them if they determined that the plaintiff could not show by clear and convincing evidence a probability of prevailing on the claim. The Washington Supreme Court held that it must be juries, not judges, who make those determinations of fact.
May 27, 2015
While the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision last week that private colleges’ police forces must make their records available to the public upon request, ESPN is appealing an Indiana court's ruling that the sports cable channel was not entitled to obtain police records from the University of Notre Dame. St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Steven Hostetler wrote that a state Public Access Counselor was incorrect in determining that ESPN was entitled to records from Notre Dame’s police department.
May 22, 2015
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) joined nearly 150 civil society groups, businesses, and trade groups in a letter to the White House urging it to not succumb to pressure to build in exceptions to encryption for law enforcement.
May 18, 2015
In a recent op-ed in The Washington Post, the Reporters Committee argued that the controversial issue of access to body cam videos need not be that controversial. Debate in Washington D.C. over police body cameras, and who should be able to see the resulting videos, has heated up in recent weeks. Despite promises of transparency, the Metropolitan Police Department has denied FOIA requests for body camera video, and Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed a new exemption to the DC FOIA that would completely prevent public access to bodycam videos.