Jail does not have to release security camera tapes
MISSOURI–Prison videotapes of a state representative’s booking on criminal charges are not public records, a Missouri appellate court in Springfield held in early March.
Although Missouri’s records law applies to both written and electronic records, the tapes were not public records because they were routinely destroyed, the court wrote. The definition of “public record” requires something that is retained, it noted.
Twenty-eight security cameras installed throughout Cole County Jail allow the prison officials to monitor the facility. The cameras run continually and are hooked to a monitor displaying a rotating video feed. Tapes of the video feed are reused approximately every four days and the previous content is taped over.
The court also did not consider the state attorney general’s arguments in a friend-of-the-court brief that the videotapes were not investigatory records under state records law, because the tapes never met the threshold definition of public records.
Despite its holding, the court did not bar access to all prison videotapes. Videotapes could become public records if they were retained for evidentiary value because of events captured on them. Such videotapes might then be considered investigatory reports under state records law, it stated.
In April 1997 state representative Mark Richardson was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated. Prison security cameras recorded at least a portion of Richardson’s booking. Shortly thereafter, KRCG-TV requested a copy of a videotape made from the video feed on the grounds that the tape was a public record.
The trial court ruled that the videotape was not subject to the disclosure under Missouri records law.
Richardson was the state’s House Republican leader, but he stepped down after his arrest became public, the Associated Press reported. Richardson later pleaded guilty. (Hemeyer v. KRCG-TV: Media Counsel; Jean Lamfers, Kansas City)