Adjust text size

Virginian-Pilot wins lawsuit to get police officers’ info

November 20, 2015 | VACP

To: VACP & VACLEA Members and Current & Former Virginia Law Enforcement
FROM: Dana Schrad, VACP/VACLEA Executive Director

The article below, released Thursday, details the outcome of a lawsuit filed by The Virginian-Pilot against the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services for enforcement of a written agreement between the Pilot and DCJS to release the names of all current and former Virginia law enforcement officers (an estimated 125,000 names). The VACP worked diligently with DCJS and with the Office of the Attorney General to fight this release to protect the LEO training records held in the T-REX database as exempt under the definition of personnel records.

Although we are disappointed that the agreement to release the officer names was upheld, the decision did affirm that the training records held by DCJS are personnel records and exempt from mandatory release.

We will review the impact of this decision and proposed amendments to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act at the upcoming 2016 VACLEA Winter Conference (January 7-8) and the 2016 VACP Midyear Conference (February 22-23) — both to be held at the Hilton Short Pump Hotel and Conference Center in western Henrico County.

Officer safety is a priority of the VACP, so we have partnered with ManageUrID to provide Virginia law enforcement with a 50% discount on services to detect and remove your personal information from unauthorized internet sites.

Visit our website at https://vacp.manageurid.com/ to sign up for this inexpensive but important service to protect you and your family.

 


Virginian-Pilot wins lawsuit to get police officers' info

NORFOLK — The Virginian-Pilot has won a lawsuit to get basic information about law enforcement officers across the state.

Norfolk Circuit Judge Joseph Migliozzi ruled Wednesday that records of 125,000 current and former police officers, sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement personnel from some 500 agencies are subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Migliozzi ordered officials with the Department of Criminal Justice Services to give The Pilot the following information: officers’ names, agencies they work for, and when they started and stopped working for those agencies.

Pilot Editor Steve Gunn said he was happy the newspaper prevailed.

“But really we see it as a victory for the public,” he said. “We’re strong believers information should be made public in most cases.”

Michael Kelly, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, which represented the Department of Criminal Justice Services, declined to talk about the decision because he hadn’t read Migliozzi’s ruling.

The Pilot and reporter Gary A. Harki sued the Criminal Justice Services Department last month seeking access to a database that tracks training for Virginia’s law enforcement officers. At a trial earlier this month, Harki told Migliozzi that he used similar data from West Virginia to track how police departments were shuffling problem officers to other departments.

Lawyers with the Attorney General’s Office argued that the information amounted to personnel records and was exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

They also argued that the Department of Criminal Justice Services wasn’t the primary keeper of the records – that the records’ owners were the individual law enforcement agencies, which simply shared them with the department.

Migliozzi ruled otherwise, although he said it was tough weighing public access against the safety of law enforcement officers.

“This is a heavy burden on me,” he said during the trial.

Norfolk police Chief Michael Goldsmith testified that he opposed the release of information on his nearly 750 sworn officers.

Terrorists with al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have encouraged lone wolves in the United States to attack military members and police officers, Goldsmith said. And hackers with groups like Anonymous might use bits of information to identify officers, dredge up more information and release it to the public.

“I have a duty to the officers to protect them as much as I can,” Goldsmith said.

Harki said his agreement with the department forbids him from releasing the list, or any name on the list, unless he confirms it with another source, such as the agency the officer works for.

Virginia State Police Capt. Jeff Baker raised a question during his testimony: Can The Pilot guarantee the security of the list once it leaves the protection provided by law enforcement computer servers?

The Pilot sued DCJS after four months of failed negotiations with the state. Harki asked for the information in June, and state officials balked, saying they were worried about exposing undercover officers.

Over the next month, the sides negotiated. Officials agreed to turn over the records, so long as Harki and his editors didn’t publish names from the list without corroborating them with individual agencies.

State officials then reneged on the agreement, which led to the lawsuit.

The Pilot’s lawyer, Conrad Shumadine, argued that allowing the state to back out of the agreement after Harki did everything he could to find a solution would have undermined the Freedom of Information Act, making it useless.

Jonathan Edwards, 757-598-3453, jonathan.edwards@pilotonline.com | Follow @VPJEdwards on Twitter.
 

Source URL: http://www.pilotonline.com/news/government/virginia/virginian-pilot-wins-lawsuit-to-get-police-officers-info/article_5415888b-71ec-56c9-90af-77f4c0326ada.html