Freedom of Information

As Ohio mandates more disclosure from private college police, ESPN appeals for Indiana to do the same

Jacob Donnelly | Freedom of Information | News | May 27, 2015
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.

Reporters Committee op-ed argues that records laws can handle questions of access to body cam video

Freedom of Information | Commentary | May 18, 2015
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.

Comments on Public Access to DC Police Body Camera Video

May 7, 2015

This testimony was submitted to the Judiciary Committee of the D.C. Council in response to a public roundtable on the Metropolitan Police Department's use of body-worn cameras (BWC). The Reporters Committee's testimony argues that BWC videos are public records that should be treated the same as any other record under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act. Additional information is provided regarding available technology that can be used to redact the videos for privacy and law enforcement concerns.

New Richmond News & Steven Dzubay v. City of New Richmond

April 16, 2015

The New Richmond News sought certain police reports under the Wisconsin open records law. The City redacted certain information from the reports, claiming that it was not allowed to provide it pursuant to the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA). The amicus brief of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and the Reporters Committee argues that the requested records were not controlled by the DPPA, and even if they were, they fell under one of its permissible use exemptions. The brief also argues that the City's interpretation of the DPPA is not supported by other federal and state authorities, and the City's position would pose enormous burdens on records custodians and requesters, leading to a deprivation of public information.

D.C. mayor upholds denial of second request for police body camera videos

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | Commentary | April 28, 2015
April 28, 2015

Washington D.C.’s Mayor Bowser has largely upheld the refusal of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to produce body camera videos in response to a D.C. Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Reporters Committee.

In its D.C. FOIA request, the Reporters Committee asked the police department for specific categories of body camera videos, including videos that have been used for training purposes, flagged for supervisory review, submitted to the D.C. Office of Police Complaints, or used in connection with criminal and civil proceedings.

Oklahoma judge lets open records lawsuit for botched execution records continue

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | Commentary | April 13, 2015
April 13, 2015

An Okahoma trial judge has denied a motion to dismiss an open records lawsuit against Oklahoma Gov. Marry Fallin and Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Tompson.

The case involves several requests made by Tulsa World Enterprise Editor Ziva Branstetter under Oklahoma's Open Records Act seeking, among other things, the transcripts of witness interviews conducted as part of the investigation into what happened during Clayton Lockett's botched execution in April 2014, and for email between state officials discussing the issue.

Branstetter's requests were pending for seven months before she and Tulsa World filed suit.

Katie Townsend, litigation director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, along with Robert Nelon of Hall Estill, argued before the court last Friday on behalf of Tulsa World and Branstetter.

Reporters Committee seeks review of denied FOIA request for D.C. police body camera video

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | Commentary | April 6, 2015
April 6, 2015

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has submitted an administrative appeal to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser urging her to overturn the Metropolitan Police Department’s decision to withhold footage from police body-worn cameras requested by the Reporters Committee under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act.

In discussing the department’s body camera program last week during her State of the District address, Mayor Bowser said that “accountability is embedded, and will be embedded in everything this administration does.” Mayor Bowser also stated that the use of body cameras will be expanded to cover all patrol officers over the coming months.

ACLU v. Superior Court

February 10, 2015

The ACLU of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are suing the County of Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, city and county of Los Angeles, and the L.A. Police Department for release of automatic license plate recognition system records. The trial court determined that all such records are exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act as investigatory records. The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief arguing that the trial court's reading of the investigatory records exemption was overbroad and erroneous and emphasized the importance to the press of access to police records.

Milner v. Department of Defense

March 11, 2015

Plaintiff Milner sought info from the Department of Defense under FOIA for records relating to the construction of an explosives handling wharf at a naval base. The department cited, among other exemptions, 10 U.S.C. § 130e, a statute that allows an exemption for "critical infrastructure" information but requires that a public interest balancing test. The Reporters Committee submitted an amicus letter to the district court for the Western District of Washington in support of Mr. Milner, arguing that based on the legislative history and text of the statute, as well as the department's own interpretation, it is important that there be an opportunity for the public to provide input on the importance of public access to the information that the government wishes to exempt under the statute.

The Tennessean et al. v. Metropolitan Govt of Nashville

February 27, 2015

Members of news media made records requests to the Nashville police department for records regarding an alleged rape on the Vanderbilt campus. The trial court granted access to certain categories of records, but the Court of Appeals later held that the records should be exempt. Before the state high court, the Reporters Committee and others submitted an amicus brief arguing that the records act mandates maximum access to government records, including information created by third parties and received by law enforcement agencies, and that the records are not exempt under rule used by the appellate court because it does not bar access to third party records that do not constitute work product. The brief also argued that the state's Victims Bill of Rights does not create an exemption to the act, and that allowing a broad law enforcement exception would have a devastating effect on the ability of the press to report on issues that are of utmost public concern.