Have you seen a great FOIA-based news story we should highlight? Let us know and maybe we can include it in our next round-up!
Brooklyn DA’s secret list of “untrustworthy” cops
On Wednesday, Gothamist reported that it had obtained a list kept by the Brooklyn DA’s office of police officers accused of dishonesty.
The list was obtained through a request filed under New York’s Freedom of Information Law, and it includes 53 legal cases from 2008-2019 in which officers “had their testimony discredited or called into question by state and federal judges.”
The released list does not include everything the Brooklyn DA has collected. The office used Section 50-a of New York’s civil rights law to shield another list from release, one that contained “Civilian Complaint Review Board complaints, NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau records, and other credibility findings by judges and Brooklyn prosecutors themselves.”
Gothamist broke the news in April that such lists existed, revealing that the lists—developed by DAs in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island—were intended to help build internal databases of police officers who “may have credibility problems as witnesses at trial.” The lists specifically include things like “civil lawsuits, past criminal records, substantiated misconduct allegations, and determinations by judges that an officer’s testimony was not credible.”
Georgia city settles year-long open records lawsuit
On October 28th, the City of Roswell, Georgia settled a Georgia Open Records Act lawsuit with Appen Media Group. The lawsuit, which had gone on for nearly a year, accused the Roswell Police Department of consistently withholding “vital information about criminal incidents” from release and failing to meet time requirements for supplying records. Initially, Roswell’s attorneys claimed that the city was protected by “the doctrine of sovereign immunity,” which states that the government cannot be sued without its consent. However, Appen launched a GoFundMe, which raised $4,220 and helped sustain the lawsuit.
The settlement agreement, unanimously passed by Roswell’s City Council, involves the city paying Appen $10,500 in attorney’s fees and “a year’s worth of free open records requests.” The settlement also includes the city admitting no liability in the alleged public records wrongdoings.
Blackbox, the site where this story was published, is owned by Appen Media Group.
Buzzfeed’s big week: Mueller probe documents and an overturned GLOMAR
This FOIA round-up would not be complete without discussing arguably the largest FOIA story of the week, which one could argue is either of the big FOIA wins from BuzzFeed News this week.
Reporters there obtained a treasure trove of FBI docs in response to five different FOIA lawsuits. The first installment ordered released by a court featured FBI 302 reports from the Mueller investigation, the summaries of interviews with White House and Trump campaign officials.
Through the materials, BuzzFeed News found Paul Manafort was “pushing the conspiracy theory that Ukraine hacked the DNC as early as 2016” and that, according to Rick Gates, then-candidate Donald Trump, following the DNC hack, told Gates that “more leaks were coming.” Many more revelations were reported by BuzzFeed News, and the documents have led to reporting by many other news outlets.
You can join in on the fun. BuzzFeed News says: “We want your help! If you see something in these memos, you can email reporter Jason Leopold at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach us securely at tips.buzzfeed.com.”
BuzzFeed News reporter Jason Leopold chronicled on Twitter the effort that went into this FOIA release.
Earlier this year, right after AG Barr released his memo characterizing Mueller's report, I started filing #FOIA requests for primary source documents that were used to draft the report as well as other underlying documents amassed by Mueller's probe— Jason Leopold (@JasonLeopold) November 3, 2019
Buzzfeed also won a FOIA case against a CIA GLOMAR response on records of Syrian rebel payments, which benefited from a 2017 Trump tweet referencing the program.
HUGE #FOIA WIN for me against CIA GLOMAR!— Jason Leopold (@JasonLeopold) November 7, 2019
Years ago, I filed a #FOIA request with CIA for docs CIA had on payments/arming Syrian rebels. After Trump tweeted in 2017 he ended the program I sued CIA.
District court just struck down CIA GLOMAR & agency must provide me with docs pic.twitter.com/KkzM4BIEld
In other news:
There were a TON of important FOIA stories this week, and they all deserve some sunshine.
We’ve gathered some of them here:
The New York Times reported on FOIA documents from NOAA that shed light on a controversy surrounding President Trump’s claims that Hurricane Dorian would hit Alabama. Read more from Lisa Friedman and Mark Walker here.
Smoky Mountain News reported that Shining Rock Classical Academy, a public charter school, delayed fulfilling Smoky Mountain News’ public records requests in order to put together an “illegal” fee scheme, which it is now using to charge $1,537.50 to fulfill the requests. Read more from Cory Vaillancourt at Smoky Mountain News here.
The Baltimore Sun reported on the efforts of Maryland’s Public Information Act Compliance Board to get the authority “to review and issue binding decisions on most [Public Information Act] disputes that have not been resolved.” Read more from Kevin Rector at The Baltimore Sun here.
The Daily Universe, a student publication of Brigham Young University, reported on efforts by the Utah League of Cities and Towns to raise costs for commercial and repeat public records filers, saying that fulfilling the requests is overwhelming city governments. Read more from Anna Morgan at the Daily Universe here.
The Lantern, a student publication of Ohio State University, received the Student Press Law Center’s 2018 Reveille Seven College Press Freedom Award, which honors The Lantern’s pursuit of public records that revealed a controversy involving university football coaching staff–a pursuit which led to The Lantern taking its own university to court. Read more from Sam Raudins at The Lantern here.