Prosecutor’s gang information may be public under Arkansas open records act
ARKANSAS — Gang membership information from a prosecutor’s files may be available under the state Freedom of Information Act, the Supreme Court ruled in late March.
The trial court was wrong to refuse access based on the law enforcement investigatory records exception without first reviewing the files at issue, the high court said. The high court ordered the trial court to look at files and determine whether the names of individuals and their status could be pulled from the files without impairing an ongoing investigation.
“[T]he scope of those files and what information comprised them was left somewhat vague and undefined,” the court said.
The case started in December 1992, when the defense attorney for an accused murderer requested access to the Pulaski County prosecutor’s files to determine if five witnesses were in the same gang as the victim. After the prosecutor denied the request, the public defender appealed to circuit court in Little Rock.
In March 1993, the circuit court denied access based on testimony from Investigator Skipper Polk of the prosecutor’s office. Polk testified that the prosecutor participates in a group, called the Pulaski County Gang Enforcement Network, whose members exchange information on gang activity.
Polk described the information as “unsubstantiated” and “raw intelligence” with references to informants and conclusions by law enforcement officers. He also said he thought that release of the information would put some people at risk and embarrass others.
(Johninson v. Stodola; Requester’s Counsel: William Simpson, Little Rock)