Judge: Arkansas State Police violated Freedom of Information Act

A recent ruling in the Sebastian County Circuit Court could affect the methods of the Arkansas State Police in releasing dash camera videos through Freedom of Information Act requests.
Circuit Judge Stephen Tabor ruled Monday that an Arkansas State Police public information officer committed five civil violations of the Freedom of Information Act last year when he relied on a “blanket policy” and failed to give valid reasons for not releasing the videos.
Circuit Judge Stephen Tabor ruled Monday that an Arkansas State Police public information officer committed five civil violations of the Freedom of Information Act last year when he relied on a “blanket policy” and failed to give valid reasons for not releasing the videos.
Bill Sadler, the state police public information officer, did not provide evidence there was an ongoing investigation in five of the six cases related to the FOIA requests for dash camera videos made by local attorney William Whitfield Hyman.
Sadler’s “testimony revealed the only basis for failing to produce the requested videos was the blanket policy of the State Police that every investigation remains open pending adjudication,” Tabor wrote.
The judge essentially agreed with the plaintiff, Hyman, that the dash camera videos had to be released and future requests be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Although Tabor agreed it was “proper” that the Arkansas State Police keep “all investigations open and ongoing until a criminal case has been adjudicated,” and “all criminal cases are closed the moment an arrest is made,” he found that “each case should be reviewed on an individual basis to determine if a particular investigation remains open.”
“While bright-line rules are certainly easier to interpret, the Court is of the opinion a case-by-case analysis of such matters are required by law,” Tabor added.
The judge states in his ruling the Arkansas Supreme Court in Martin Vs. Masteen stated “the trial court will have to decide, as a matter of fact in any such case, whether investigations are ongoing or not.”
“The judge made a good point on how Bill Sadler mentioned I could get the information through the prosecutor, but I did not represent all of these people in their criminal cases at the time the requests were made nor did I represent all of them criminally at the time of our FOIA hearing, and many of the requests were time sensitive, something prosecutors do not generally concern themselves with,” Hyman wrote in an email.
The one claim by Hyman dismissed by the judge concerned a complaint against an Arkansas State Trooper that was still under investigation. All other requested dash camera videos were released to Hyman.
Arkansas State Police Director Col. Bill Bryant said in an emailed statement that he has not yet met with legal counsel inside the Attorney General’s Office to review the results from this FOIA case .
“Meanwhile in the coming weeks we will meet internally to discuss options that will conform with Judge Tabor’s decision,” Bryant stated.
No legal fees were assessed in the ruling. Senior Assistant Attorney General Colin R. Jorgensen represented Sadler in Sebastian County Circuit Court March 3.
“Hyman’s theory — that the State Police should not be permitted to claim an ongoing investigation after an arrest or after a charge is filed but before adjudication is all cases — is inconsistent with the appellate decisions addressing the ongoing investigation exemption” Jorgensen wrote in his argument.
Sadler has a long history with the press, both as a reporter and a public information officer. He is in his 20th year in that role with the state police. He said he also worked for 20 years at KARK Channel 4 in Little Rock and several years in newspapers. His family owned the Cleveland County Herald at Rison for 70 years until 2002 when it was purchased by Britt Talent. Stan Sadler, Bill Sadler’s brother, still writes sports for the Cleveland County Herald, Talent said by phone Tuesday.
Bill Sadler said the Arkansas State Police receives about 700 requests a year for various items through the Freedom of Information Act and 95 percent of them are from attorneys. In Hyman’s post-trial brief, it was noted that Bill Sadler was found to have violated the FOIA one other time.
By John Lovett / Times Record / jlovett@swtimes.com

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