Government openness

New D.C. bodycam policies too restrictive, critics testify

Soo Rin Kim | Freedom of Information | News | October 29, 2015
News
October 29, 2015

Open-government advocates warned District of Columbia officials last week that exemption of all police body-worn camera footage showing "assaults" will undermine the very purpose of the program, as will other provisions designed to delay or deny the release of footage to the public.

The discussion came at a D.C. Council committee's public hearing to discuss three proposed amendments regarding the Metropolitan Police Department’s bodycam program.

The debate centered on how to balance transparency and privacy concerns and whether police body-worn camera recordings should be granted special treatment outside the existing D.C. Freedom of Information Act.

“It is our view that body camera footage is just another public record in simply different format,” said Rebecca Snyder, the President of Maryland, Delaware and D.C. Press Association President.

Arkansas housing director criminally convicted for violating public records law

Kelly Swanson | Freedom of Information | News | June 11, 2015
News
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.

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

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

FOIA reform bill dies after House fails to schedule vote

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | Commentary | December 12, 2014
Commentary
December 12, 2014

A bipartisan FOIA reform bill failed to be put to a vote in the House on Thursday after it was unanimously approved by the Senate. The inaction spelled death for the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, as House members are scheduled to leave town today and have not scheduled a vote on the measure.

One of the more frustrating aspects of the incident is that the House unanimously passed an even broader FOIA reform bill in February, leaving open government advocates wondering about the reasons for the House’s inaction.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who co-sponsored the Senate bill along with John Cornyn, R-Texas, blamed House Speaker John Boehner, tweeting on Thursday night, “And Boehner kills #FOIA improvements.”

FOIA Improvement Act unanimously passes Senate, heads to House

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | Commentary | December 9, 2014
Commentary
December 9, 2014

After a last minute hold was released, the Senate unanimously passed the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 yesterday. The Act, which strengthen the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), will now head to the House for its approval.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) lifted his hold on the bill late in the day on Monday, allowing the bill to proceed. When asked about the reasons for his delay, the Senator rather mysteriously said, “it’s sort of the internal workings of the Senate.” Lifting the hold allowed Sen. Leahy to go to the floor and secure the unanimous consent of the Senate.

Supreme Court allows execution without disclosure of drug information

Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Freedom of Information | News | July 23, 2014
News
July 23, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court prevented an Arizona death row inmate from delaying his execution date in order to receive information on the drugs to be used in his execution.

The denial overturns a decision by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) that ruled capital prisoner Joseph Wood’s requests for information on the drugs the state planned to use to execute him had sufficient merit to delay his execution, scheduled for Wednesday.

The state of Arizona asked the full Ninth Circuit court to review the panel's decision, but the circuit court refused Monday to hear it in front of its full 11-judge panel. The state then took its appeal to the Supreme Court, which also refused to hear the appeal but did lift the Ninth Circuit stay to allow Wood’s execution to go forward.

Cherokee Council amends nation's FOI law

Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Freedom of Information | News | June 18, 2014
News
June 18, 2014

The Cherokee Nation Council passed an amendment to its freedom of information law that will extend the response time to records requests about the tribe’s government.

The Freedom of Information Act amendment passed 10-6 Monday night with one councilor not in attendance, after the council also passed an amendment to its Governmental Records Act, which provides government officials access to records.

The amendment creates an information officer that will receive all records requests and will be independent of any office within the government. Under the old act, the attorney general handled records requests from the press and public.

Washington State Supreme Court grants ABC affiliate access to dashcam videos

Bradleigh Chance | Freedom of Information | News | June 13, 2014
News
June 13, 2014

After a drawn out legal battle over access to police car dashcam videos between TV station KOMO and the Seattle Police Department, the local news source received a favorable opinion from the Washington State Supreme Court. The court concluded the police should have released videos in response to two public records requests made by KOMO reporter Tracy Vedder.

KOMO sued for access when the Department of Justice was investigating the Seattle Police Department for use of excessive force.

Calif. Supreme Court rules names of officers involved in on-duty shootings are public record

Bradleigh Chance | Freedom of Information | News | May 30, 2014
News
May 30, 2014

The Supreme Court of California this week upheld a lower court ruling requiring a police department to release the names of officers involved in on-duty shootings.

In December 2010, Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Winton asked the Long Beach City Attorney‘s Office for the names of the two police officers who shot and killed a man in Los Angeles.

The officers were responding to a resident’s tip about an intoxicated man carrying a six-shooter though the neighborhood. When they arrived on the scene, they found 35-year-old Douglas Zerby. According to the officers, Zerby held up an object resembling a gun and the two of them reacted by firing shots and killing him. When the officers approached his body, they could see that the object Zerby was holding was actually a garden hose with a pistol grip spray nozzle.

Cherokee Nation council considers changes to FOI law

Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Freedom of Information | News | May 29, 2014
News
May 29, 2014

The Rules Committee of the Cherokee Nation’s tribal council voted 14-3 Wednesday in favor of changes to the tribe’s Freedom of Information Act, extending the government’s records request response time and centralizing requests in a single independent ombudsman.

Cherokee Phoenix photo by Will Chavez

Protesters gather outside a meeting where a legislative committee was considering restrictive amendments to the open records laws of the Cherokee Nation.