Freedom of Information

In my last post, I asked, rhetorically, what a police department would do if it was not interested in shedding light on the truth about a police shooting.

It would probably do something like this.

The chief of police for the Ferguson Police Department misled members of the media and the public when he asserted that his hand was forced in releasing surveillance footage that purported to show 18-year-old resident Michael Brown engaged in a strong-arm robbery at a convenience store hours before he was fatally shot by a police officer.

Chief Thomas Jackson distributed copies of the surveillance tape at a press conference on Aug. 15 in tandem with the public release of the identity of the officer who was responsible for shooting Brown.

When questioned by members of the press about the tape -- which apparently had nothing to do with the fatal shooting of the unarmed teenager -- Jackson told reporters that he was legally obligated to release the tape because members of the media had submitted an open records requests for it.

"We've had this tape for a while, and we had to diligently review the information that was in the tape, determine if there was any other reason to keep it," Jackson said at the press event. "We got a lot of Freedom of Information requests for this tape, and at some point it was just determined we had to release it. We didn't have good cause, any other reason not to release it under FOI."

...However, a review of open records requests sent to the Ferguson Police Department found that no news organization, reporter or individual specifically sought the release of the surveillance tape before police distributed it on Aug. 15.

In short, the FPD released the videotape because it wanted to.

Why would I make that claim? Because other materials requested under FOI have not been been released, including recordings of 911 calls and tapes of police dispatchers. But primarily, I make it because Chief Jackson was not truthful; he was not forced to release that information at all.

The next question, of course, is why the FPD would want to release the one piece of information but not release any of the others.

And yes, that question is largely rhetorical.

Selectively releasing material that make the victim look bad while withholding information that might NOT make him look bad (or might possibly make Wilson or the FPD look bad) could be called a lot of things. "Transparency" is not one of them.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on September 5, 2014 2:30 PM.

A Brief Story About Ferguson was the previous entry in this blog.

Georgia on My Mind is the next entry in this blog.

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