The La Crosse Police Department had initially rejected the records request regarding an ex-officer.
BY NATHAN DENZIN, The Badger Project
The Badger Project has agreed to drop its lawsuit against the La Crosse Police Department after the city turned over public records regarding a former officer who resigned in lieu of termination in 2019.
The department has also agreed to pay $1,300 to The Badger Project and the Wisconsin Transparency Project to cover their legal fees within 30 days of the case being dismissed with prejudice. Dismissal with prejudice means the plaintiff cannot refile the claim again in the same court.
The Wisconsin Transparency Project, a law firm that focuses on the state’s open records and meetings laws, filed the lawsuit on behalf of The Badger Project’s managing editor Peter Cameron.
“We are glad the La Crosse Police Department immediately agreed to turn over the records,” said Tom Kamenick, president of the Wisconsin Transparency Project and Cameron’s attorney.
In May, the La Crosse Police Department denied Cameron’s request, claiming “internal disciplinary” as the reason the records were not subject to disclosure.
In a letter sent Wednesday to Kamenick, La Crosse City Attorney Stephen Matty said that the decision to deny those records was made “in error.”
“It is unknown why the records clerk provided such a response, as the clerk left her employment with the City several months ago,” Matty said in the letter. He did not respond to a follow-up request from The Badger Project for comment.
The records requested were held in the City of La Crosse Human Resources Department, Matty said. After the initial denial and filling of the lawsuit, David Buroker, the city’s deputy director of human resources, emailed Cameron and offered assistance in finding the records. Cameron told Buroker in an email “it’s up to the courts to decide now.”
“We shouldn’t have to file a lawsuit to get public records,” Cameron said Thursday. “Public records belong to the public.”
The records were turned over Wednesday to The Badger Project without redactions.
“Custodians should learn two things from this case,” Kamenick said. “First, denials of record requests must be explained. You cannot just cite to a statute and claim it exempts the records. Second, there is no blanket exemption for investigatory or disciplinary records.”
According to state law, all public records are open to public inspection unless the government agency can point to a specific exemption on the books.
“I founded the Wisconsin Transparency Project to bring a new level of accountability to government agencies around the state,” Kamenick said. “If you break the law, you will be sued.”
The Badger Project is a nonpartisan, citizen-supported journalism nonprofit in Wisconsin.
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