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Friday, February 24, 2017

Ind. Gov't. - Former Columbus mayor files public records suit against the man she named chief of police"

Kirk Johannesen reports the story in The Columbus Republic. Some quotes from the lengthy story:

The former Columbus mayor has filed suit against the man she named chief of police.

Former Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown filed a lawsuit Feb. 17 against Police Chief Jon Rohde, claiming he failed to comply with a public-records request for information related to a incident involving two Bartholomew County government employees, a parole supervisor and jail commander.

The lawsuit states that Brown made a records request to Rohde on Sept. 8, 2016, about an incident that occurred about two weeks prior and asked to receive a copy of all information that is required to be maintained — including the factual circumstances and description of any injuries, property or weapons involved. * * *

Brown said she requested information on the incident on behalf of another local resident whose request for the same information was denied. Because of her understanding of public-access laws and the police department’s operating procedures, Brown said it was easier for her file the request.

“I don’t like to see government officials preying on the public’s understanding of state statutes and what’s public information,” Brown said.

Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act requires public agencies to respond to public-records requests made other than in person no later than seven days from the date the agency receives the request, the lawsuit states.

Brown received a public-incident document from Rohde on Sept. 26 — 11 days after the public-records deadline. However, she claims that it did not contain all the factual circumstances and descriptions of injuries, property or weapons involved.

“The incident report was insufficient public information,” Brown said.

She said additional information should be in the reporting officer’s narrative, which is standard operating procedure if there is an alleged crime. Even if some information in the narrative is redacted for investigatory purposes, a minimum amount should be public, she said.

Subsequently on Sept. 30, Brown filed a complaint with Luke Britt, Indiana’s public access counselor.

Rohde and the Columbus Police Department responded to the complaint through Columbus City Attorney Alan Whitted.

In the response to the public access counselor, the city asserted that it was not required to generate documentation about the Aug. 23 incident because no one was arrested, summoned to court or jailed. The city also asserted that no requirement existed for producing a document under state statute, so a complaint about a violation of state law is unfounded, but the public-incident report complies with state law.

The public access counselor issued an opinion Nov. 3 that sided with Brown and said that the public-incident report provided to her was insufficient to meet the standards of the public records act, and that if Columbus Police Department has more documented information then it should be provided to Brown.

Brown alleges that after the public access counselor’s ruling, the police department did not provide her with additional information about the case, even when she informed Rohde on Dec. 7 that more than a month had passed since Britt had issued his opinion.

The lawsuit states that Whitted responded to Brown on Dec. 22, on behalf of Rohde and the police department, and stated that all the information sent to her was all the department had about the Aug. 23 incident.

“I find that difficult to believe knowing they need to keep information by state law, and it’s the procedure to do so, and if there is no (narrative) report that would be highly unusual,” Brown said.

Here is the PAC's Nov. 3, 2016 advisory opinion,

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 24, 2017 01:10 PM
Posted to Indiana Government