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Wisconsin prison hands over grenade video, settles suit

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  1. Freedom of Information
Wisconsin prison officials have released video footage of a guard detonating a grenade typically used for outdoor crowd control in…

Wisconsin prison officials have released video footage of a guard detonating a grenade typically used for outdoor crowd control in the cell of an individual prisoner after the Associated Press sued to obtain a copy of the footage, the news agency reported.

The release effectively settles the lawsuit, which the AP filed last month after the Department of Corrections refused to hand over a video that showed a guard throwing a nonlethal stinger grenade into the prisoner’s cell. In addition, the department has also agreed to pay $5,000 in attorney fees that the AP would have been entitled to if it had won its case in court, said Robert Dreps, an attorney at Godfrey & Kahn who represented the AP.

The AP requested the video under Wisconsin’s freedom of information laws after the department settled a $49,000 lawsuit with the 135-pound inmate, Raynard Jackson, who claimed the use of the grenade constituted excessive force and caused hearing loss.

The department initially denied the request for the video, claiming that release could jeopardize the prison’s camera surveillance system and allow inmate viewers to plot against guards. Later, the department admitted the footage was taken by a guard with a hand-held camera, not by the prison’s surveillance system — a fact AP reporters discovered while covering Jackson’s underlying civil rights case, Dreps said.

While the actual video is 20 minutes long, the AP allowed the department to redact the first 15 minutes, which showed the guards preparing for planned use of force with the grenade, a device that releases rubber pellets when it explodes. 

Dreps said the cut portion, which the department played in full during settlement negotiations, was not newsworthy. The AP simply “wanted to show the public what the stinger grenade does and what the aftermath looked like,” he said.

“Redacting sensitive parts is something the department should have considered rather than a straight denial in the first place,” Dreps said.