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Meko v. City of Lancaster

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  1. Freedom of Information

Case Number: CI-21-00277

Court: Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas

Clients: Hurubie Meko and LNP Media Group, Inc.

Petition for Review Filed: Jan. 13, 2021

Background: On Nov. 9, 2020, Hurubie Meko, then a staff writer for LNP Media, filed a request for police body camera footage from the evening of Sept. 13, 2020, when protesters clashed with law enforcement officers outside of the Lancaster City Bureau of Police during demonstrations demanding police reform and accountability. Meko requested the records from the police department under Pennsylvania’s Act 22, a law passed in 2017 authorizing members of the public to request video or audio recordings created by law enforcement agencies.

The city of Lancaster denied the request, claiming the footage contained a record of incidents related to pending criminal charges and that, as a result, the respondents would not be able to redact recordings in a way that would ensure a fair trial. The Lancaster County District Attorney’s office later joined with the city in opposing release of the footage.

After being denied access to the footage, Meko and LNP Media filed a petition for review in the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas, making it the first Act 22 case to be heard by a court in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In a brief in support of their petition, they argue that Act 22 requires the police department to either release the requested body camera footage or redact select portions of the footage and release the rest. Meko and LNP Media also argue that there is significant public interest in the requested records, given the importance of understanding how law enforcement officers interact with the public.

In May, Paula Knudsen Burke, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney in Pennsylvania, began representing Meko and LNP Media in this case. She joins Terry Mutchler of Dilworth Paxson LLP, who has been representing the reporter and news outlet since the case was initially filed.

Quote: “There has always been a significant public interest in understanding how law enforcement interacts with the public in the United States,” Meko and LNP Media argue in their petition for review. “However, given the current public concern regarding police reform and accountability — as well as the countering opinions that have emerged in our national discussion of effective policing methods — there is an even stronger public interest in viewing these protests from the perspective of the responding law enforcement officers.”

Co-Counsel: Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP

Update: Following the news outlet’s appeal to the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas, the Lancaster County District Attorney’s office intervened. After negotiations, the District Attorney’s office coordinated the release of more than a dozen hours of the requested body camera footage.

Filings:

2021-01-13: Petition for review

2021-01-27: DA petition to intervene

2021-04-29: Brief in support of petition for review

2021-05-06: Respondents’ opposition to petition for review

2021-10-4: Notice of Voluntary Dismissal

2021-10-4: Oct 4 Judge Brown Order