In a comment on the Patreon post “Hothead,” supporter Purple Sprynkles wrote:
“If he really had an attorney that thought he had a case, the ATTORNEY would be the one to send the letter on the attorney’s letterhead.”
In response to Purple Sprynkles, I wrote:
“Number of letters I have received from people claiming to have retained counsel: I’d guess a dozen;
Number of letters I have received from counsel: zero.
Number of times I have been sued in relation to Real World Police: one.
Scratch that. Two. They were clearly memorable.”
Purple Sprynkles wanted to know more about the whole ‘getting sued’ thing. It’s now many months later and all of the numbers above have gone up, but Purple Sprynkles still deserves an answer. This video — and this text — are it.
Washington State has a strong access to public records statute: the Washington Public Records Act, or “PRA.”
The PRA allows for something called “third-party notice,” in which public agencies notify affected parties of a public records request. Agencies have wide discretion to decide whether and whom to (or not to) notify; notice is optional, and as long as an an agency acts in good faith, they can’t be held liable for failing to notify someone.
The main idea behind third-party notice is to allow affected people to go to court and obtain an injunction or protective order preventing the agency from releasing records where the release would impact them. The PRA permits a reasonable delay in providing responsive records in order to provide affected parties enough time to obtain a protective order. The requestor is a necessary party to any such lawsuit.
This woman sued me.
A couple of notes at the beginning of this video direct you here. I’ll address them in the order they appear:
1. “Everything we do is a public record and we can’t not release it if someone specifically requests it.” – Sort of. Although that statement may technically be correct, it’s real-world incorrect. Every state’s access to public records statute creates exemptions for many – often 1,000+ – types of records and/or information within records. (Even though they are still, in many cases, technically ‘public records exempt from disclosure.’)
2. “The law right now, they have to have a specific reason for requesting video” – I know what he was trying to say, but that wasn’t it, since with limited exception, agencies may not inquire about the purpose of a request. The most common exception relates to the restriction that agencies may not sell or provide access to lists of individuals requested for commercial purposes. RCW 42.56.070(9).
3. “Somebody would have to say I wanna know this specific case about this specific person.” Actually, yes. And more. Under the PRA, a request for a body worn camera video must include
(a) the name of one of the people involved in the incident, and
(b) the incident or case number,
along with either
(c) the date, time, and location of the incident; or
(d) the name of a law enforcement or corrections officer involved in the incident.
Ms. Landvatter’s lawsuit didn’t get off to an auspicious start. Her attorney roared out of the gate by serving someone in Mississippi who happened to have the same name as me. He did put up a good fight, though, going so far as to to try and get the case heard by the Supreme Court of Washington. (Spoiler: they didn’t hear it.)
I have since requested a number of other videos from the same agency, and guess what? It seems that – two lawsuits later – they no longer provide third-party notice.
Real World Police is a proud supporter of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which provides pro bono legal representation, amicus curiae support, and other legal resources to protect the First Amendment freedoms and the news gathering rights of journalists.
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