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Thursday, March 21, 2024

PAC Finds Public Body in Violation of FOIA for Withholding Video Footage

In 2023, a person submitted a FOIA request to a County Sheriff’s Office seeking certain video recordings of a County animal control facility. The County denied the request, alleging that disclosure would interfere with a pending County investigation, and invited the requestor to re-submit their request in 30 days. When the requestor submitted a new FOIA request, the County again denied the request, this time arguing that the records were not public records subject to FOIA and that the records were exempt because they constituted records relating to the adjudication of employee grievances or disciplinary cases under section 7(1)(n) of FOIA. 

The requestor then submitted a request for review with the PAC, wihch issued binding opinion PAC Op. 24-005, concluding that the County violated FOIA by improperly withholding the recordings.

First, the PAC determined that because the responsive video footage relates to the Sheriff’s Office investigation of an alleged incident captured on the footage, and the recordings were in the possession of the Sheriff’s Office, the recordings were public records subject to disclosure under FOIA, unless an applicable exemption applied to all or part of the recordings.

Second, the PAC concluded that the Sheriff’s Office did not demonstrate that the withheld recordings were exempt pursuant to section 7(1)(n) of FOIA. That exemption applies to records relating to a public body's adjudication of employee grievances or disciplinary cases, but requires disclosure of the final outcome of cases where discipline is imposed. Although the Sheriff’s Office stated that disciplinary action was taken against an unidentified individual after completing their investigation into the incident captured on the recordings, the PAC stated that the Sheriff’s Office did not explain whether or to what extent any “adjudication” (defined as a formalized legal proceeding resulting in a final and enforceable decision) occurred following the investigation. In addition, because the withheld footage consisted solely of investigatory information that pre-dated any adjudication, and 7(1)(n) only applies to records generated during an adjudication, the PAC concluded that footage was not exempt.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


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