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Court finds sheriff should have released records that led to arrest

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    NMU         ARKANSAS         Press at Home & Abroad         Apr 4, 2000    

Court finds sheriff should have released records that led to arrest

  • A reporter was arrested after arguing with a sheriff over access to records, but a court ruled that the sheriff should release the information after the newspaper requested the documents.

Circuit Judge Larry Chandler ruled Wednesday that Columbia County sheriff Wayne Tompkins violated Arkansas’s Freedom of Information Act by failing to provide records in a timely manner.

Reporter Toni Walthall was arrested while seeking information on an inmate’s furlough records. After Walthall argued with the sheriff, who did not want to release the information after the home the convicted arsonist was staying in was destroyed by fire, the sheriff had Walthall arrested. She was charged with “obstructing government operations,” and the newspaper filed a request for the records Walthall had initially been seeking. The sheriff’s subsequent 72-hour delay in providing the records prompted the Banner-News to file suit.

In an Associated Press article, Chandler said that “records could have been released as they were located and Tompkins did not make an effort to comply with the law.”

Walthall’s trial is scheduled for May 2.

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