IG investigation into DHS agent Angel Echevarria

CJ Ciaramella filed this request with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General of the United States of America.
Tracking # 2014-002 ; 2014-A04
Status
Rejected

Communications

From: CJ Ciaramella

To Whom It May Concern:

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act. I hereby request the following records:

All documents related to the Office of Inspector General's investigation of DHS agent Angel Echevarria. This includes complaints filed, processing notes to Freedom of Information Act requests, and any disciplinary actions taken as a result of the investigation.

On April 11 2008, Echevarria, an agent with the Federal Protective Service, was involved in an automobile accident. Shortly after, the other party filed a complaint with the Office of the Inspector General due to Echevarria's behavior.

On Sep. 7 2013, Florida news agencies reported Echevarria had been arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a firearm and one count of firing into an occupied vehicle.

This article should provide all the relevant background information: http://thefederalist.com/2013/10/07/at-dhs-accountability-is-just-another-word-for-looking-the-other-way/

If some of these records are disclosable and others are exempt, please provide the disclosable records and let me know the exemption(s) preventing disclosure of the
rest. Please note that according to 5 U.S.C. § 552(b): "Any reasonably segregable portion of a record shall be provided to any person requesting such record after deletion of the portions which are exempt under this subsection."

I also request that, if appropriate, fees be waived as I believe this request is in the public interest. The requested documents will be made available to the general public free of charge as part of the public information service at MuckRock.com, processed by a representative of the news media/press and is made in the process of news gathering and not for commercial usage.

In the event that fees cannot be waived, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 20 business days, as the statute requires.

Sincerely,

CJ Ciaramella

From: FOIA OIG

Mr. Ciaramella:

Thank you for your interest in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG). Attached please find DHS-OIG's acknowledgement of the above-referenced FOIA request.

From: MuckRock.com

To Whom It May Concern:

I wanted to follow up on the following Freedom of Information request, copied below, and originally submitted on Oct. 7, 2013. Please let me know when I can expect to receive a response, or if further clarification is needed. You had assigned it reference number #2014-002.

Thank you for your help.

From: FOIA OIG

Good morning Mr. Ciaramella,

Thank you for your interest in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG). Your FOIA request stands in the queue of our outstanding requests. We are currently trying to use all of our resources to respond to requests as quickly as possible. We really appreciate your patience.

Please feel free to contact our office should you have any questions at 202-254-4001.

Sincerely,
OIG/FOIA

From: FOIA OIG

Dear Mr. Ciaramella:

Thank you for your interest in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG). Attached please find DHS-OIG's final response to your FOIA request.

Sincerely,
FOIA/DHS-OIG

From: CJ Ciaramella

Dear FOIA Officer:
This is a Freedom of Information Act appeal regarding my Freedom of Information letter of October 7, 2013 for IG records on DHS officer Angel Echevarria—FOIA No. 2014-002.

I write to appeal the application of exemption 7(c) and the blanket refusal to acknowledge the existence of the records in question, commonly referred to as a "glomar response" or "glomarization."

The Supreme Court has stated that privacy rights must be weighed against the extent to which disclosure would serve the "core purpose of the FOIA," which is "contribut[ing] significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government." Department of Defense v. F.L.R.A., 114 S.Ct. 1006, 1012 (1994).

Please note that "In the Act generally, and particularly under Exemption (6), there is a strong presumption in favor of disclosure." Local 598 v. Department of Army Corps of Engineers, 841 F.2d 1459, 1463 (9th. Cir. 1988).

Exemption 7(c) exists to shield the release of law enforcement records that "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." Such records enjoy broader privacy protections than other public records do under exemption 6, and requesters must articulate an "overriding" public interest that outweighs the substantial privacy interests of third parties named in the records.

In this case, the third party in question is a law enforcement officer, tasked and paid by the public to serve. He is a public official and therefore less entitled to privacy protections than a general member of the public named in a law enforcement record. Furthermore, the third party is a DHS officer with a history of complaints against him, including intimidation, road rage, and abuse of power.

On Sep. 7 2013, Florida news agencies reported that the officer in question had been arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a firearm and one count of firing into an occupied vehicle: http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/Off-Duty-Homeland-Security-Agent-Arrested-for-Shooting-Car-in-Road-Rage-Incident-Boca-Raton-Police-225459142.html

Subsequent news reports showed that the officer turned himself into a federal agents, rather than local law enforcement, thus avoiding the public record until a FOIA request revealed the arrest.

Previous complaints were made to the DHS OIG regarding the agent's behaviors. The aggrieved party sought similar records to this request through a FOIA request, but his request was also rejected under capricious reasoning: http://thefederalist.com/2013/10/07/at-dhs-accountability-is-just-another-word-for-looking-the-other-way/

There is a clear and overriding public interest in how the Department of Homeland Security investigated the most recent and previous incidents involving the officer in question. The issue at hand is not simply the officer, but the public accountability of the agency.

Please also note that for a request involving more than just a law enforcement file, courts have held that the agency must take a "bifurcated" approach, distinguishing between the exceptionally sensitive law enforcement part of the request and any part that is not so sensitive as to require "Glomarization." Nation Magazine v. United States Customs Serv., 71 F.3d 885 (D.C. Cir. 1995)

The processing notes to FOIA requests are not so sensitive as to require glomarization, or else the DHS OIG has a massively more broad and generous definition of "sensitive" than the rest of the federal government.

I would finally inform the OIG FOIA office that the Department of Homeland Security FOIA office has already released to me redacted records of complaints against the officer in question: https://muckrock.s3.amazonaws.com/foia_files/https___muckrock.s3.amazonaws.com_foia_files_final_resposne.pdf

I'm led to wonder what a court would think of a federal agency partially releasing these sensitive records while its Office of Inspector General refuses to even acknowledge the existence of related documents. It would appear to be a rather uneven application of exemption 7(c).

In the event this appeal is denied, the agency is required to provide a written response describing the reasons for the denial, names and titles of each person responsible for the denial, and the procedures required to invoke judicial assistance in this matter. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(ii), 7 C.F.R. § 1.8(d). I await your prompt reply.

Sincerely,

CJ Ciaramella
(503) 951-9863
1600 K ST NW SUITE 200
Washington, DC 20005

From: FOIA OIG

Mr. Ciaramella:

Attached please find DHS-OIG's acknowledgement letter to the above-referenced FOIA Appeal.

Sincerely,
FOIA/DHS-OIG

From: FOIA OIG

Mr. Ciaramella:

Attached please find DHS-OIG's final response to the above-referenced FOIA Appeal.

Sincerely,
FOIA/DHS-OIG

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