Case Number: 2021CV31519
Court: Denver County District Court
Client: The Gazette Newspaper, Christopher Osher and The Invisible Institute
Complaint Filed: May 14, 2021
Background: In 2019 and 2020, The Gazette, a Colorado Springs newspaper, and The Invisible Institute, a Chicago-based nonprofit newsroom, filed separate state Open Records Act requests with the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training Board seeking similar data regarding the certification, training and personnel changes of law enforcement officers in Colorado, information that at least 23 states have disclosed in response to other records requests filed by The Invisible Institute.
The POST Board rejected all three requests — two from Gazette reporter Christopher Osher and one from The Invisible Institute. It claimed that, as a “criminal justice agency” governed by the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act, the Board is not required to release the requested data to the public.
On behalf of The Gazette, Osher, and The Invisible Institute, Reporters Committee attorneys sued the director of the POST Board, arguing that the records requests were unlawfully denied because the POST Board database is governed by the state’s Open Records Act, not the Criminal Justice Records Act. The suit urges the Denver County District Court to declare that the POST Board is not a criminal justice agency and require it to provide access to the requested database in a searchable and sortable format, at no cost — as is required under the Open Records Act.
Quote: “Public agencies cannot be allowed to withhold public records by claiming, incorrectly, that the Public Records Act’s requirements do not apply to them,” said Rachael Johnson, the Reporters Committee Local Legal Initiative staff attorney in Colorado. “Local communities should better understand how police officers are certified, decertified and trained. We hope the court agrees with our clients that the database they requested is governed by the Colorado Open Records Act and must be released to the public.”
Updates: After ruling in August 2021 that the POST Board is a criminal justice agency, Denver District Court Judge J. Eric Elliff sided with the agency on Oct. 5, 2021. The judge held that the POST Board did not abuse its discretion under the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act when it denied the journalists’ requests for records. On Nov. 23, 2021, the news outlets filed a notice of appeal with the Colorado Court of Appeals.