This week’s FOIA roundup: Drones and drugs and Virginia prisons, Michigan’s AG bemoans a lack of transparency, and border patrol abuses immigrant children

This week’s FOIA roundup: Drones and drugs and Virginia prisons, Michigan’s AG bemoans a lack of transparency, and border patrol abuses immigrant children

Read a great FOIA-based news story we should highlight? Let us know.

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Edited by Beryl Lipton

A drone was spotted near a Virginia prison carrying cocaine and marijuana, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says she’s “ashamed” of the state’s public records law, and an ACLU request and lawsuit culminates in over 30,000 pages of DHS documents.

See a great use of public records we missed? Send over your favorite FOIA stories via email, on Twitter, or on Facebook, and maybe we’ll include them in the next round-up. And if you’d like even more inspiration, read past round-ups.

Drone sightings near Virginia prisons

In August, Virginia police responded to a drone sighted on the ground near Buckingham Correctional Center. The drone was carrying a package containing $500 worth of marijuana, an eighth of an ounce of cocaine, a cell phone, three SIM cards, and a handcuff key.

A Freedom of Information Act request made by The Virginian-Pilot revealed that at least 33 drones have been sighted near state prisons since 2018, and there have been 14 incidents since the start of the year. While only one drone was said to be carrying any drugs, state police are concerned about preventing more from transporting contraband into prisons, “endangering everyone there.”

In September 2018, guards spotted six drones around one facility flying in different directions.

Phil Pitsky, the vice president of U.S. federal operations for a drone company that sells detection software and works with three state corrections departments, says most drone sightings around prisons are either dropping off contraband or observing the facility for guards and shift changes.

While the company, Dedrone, does not work with Virginia corrections, Pitsky says in the past his software has typically detected “two to three times” the number of drones officially reported. He says preventing contraband from entering is “the number one concern.”

Read the full article at The Virginian-Pilot.

Michigan AG calls for increased transparency from state university in USA Gymnastics scandal

A “FOIA Festival” hosted by the Society of Professional Journalists last Saturday in Michigan led to a speech from the state’s attorney general where she criticized the state’s public records law and called for Michigan State University to give her office emails related to the Larry Nassar investigation.

Attorney General Dana Nessel addressed the state’s failing grade in transparency from the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit news organization that grades states on accountability and ethics. Michigan is the only state in the country that exempts the governor, lieutenant governor, and every member of its legislature from Freedom of Information requests.

“We are not opening the doors to state government,” Nessel said. “In fact, we are locking them with deadbolts, and then we are nailing boards across them, and then there’s a moat.”

Nessel also mentioned Michigan State University withholding emails from her office related to the investigation of John Geddert, a coach for USA Gymnastics who had ties to sexual predator Larry Nassar.

The university initially withheld or heavily redacted 7,500 documents, citing attorney-client privilege. After officials sued, it released 1,000 documents voluntarily. The Attorney General says the emails are essential to completing her investigation and asking her to do so while refusing to provide evidence in the emails is “disingenuous.”

Read the full article at The Detroit News.

ALCU chapter releases documents detailing abuse directed towards children from border patrol officials

The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties published a report on Wednesday about “widespread horrific abuse” of child migrants by immigration officials. The report is the culmination of a FOIA request and litigation lasting over 5 years, which released the more than 30,000 pages that are the basis of the report.

The documents include agency records of investigations into abuse directed at children, including allegations of excessive use of force, sexual assault, verbal abuse, and the use of derogatory slurs. In one 2008 incident, an ICE agent told child detainees to “shut the fuck up” and threatened to “smash [their] fucking faces in.”

The officer was transferred to a non-law enforcement job but remained employed by the Department of Homeland Security. The incident is the only record in the documents of disciplinary action taken by any component of DHS.

Records also include audio and video recording of internal investigations, including one where a girl describes “how a Border Patrol agent unnecessarily forced her to fully undress upon apprehension.” In another incident, an unaccompanied minor turned himself in to border patrol officials and said his leg was hurt, but officials allegedly refused to provide him medical attention, said they would not waste government money on “little girl problems,” and called him an anti-gay slur.

The ACLU published all the documents it received via Dropbox.

Read the full article at the ACLU-SDIC.

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Sunrise Over Lake Michigan” by Derek Koepke licensed under CC BY 2.0