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LPM sues Louisville Metro for access to public records

An LMPD cruiser sits outside the LMPD Downtown Area Patrol building.
J. Tyler Franklin
LPM News requested the records from the Louisville Metro Police Department in late September of last year.

Louisville Public Media is suing Louisville Metro Government for failing to produce video records even after Kentucky’s attorney general ruled in favor of the newsroom.

The Louisville Metro Police Department violated Kentucky’s open records law in failing to provide Louisville Public media access to public records, according to the Kentucky attorney general's office.

Last fall, LPM News asked police for video records related to the killing of an unarmed man in a parking lot near Churchill Downs by someone wielding an assault weapon.

City officials said it would take as long as six months to produce the records. They blame an increase in the number of requests, a growing backlog and a lack of staff to meet the demand.

The state’s attorney general’s office has repeatedly maintained that’s not how the Kentucky Open Records Act works. They’ve said a lack of sufficient staffing is not grounds to ignore obligations under state law.

Then-Attorney General Daniel Cameron reiterated that in December when Louisville Public Media (LPM) won its appeal for the records.

“Although numerous unrelated simultaneous requests to inspect records may place a strain on a public agency, the [Attorney General’s] Office has previously noted that ‘[n]either the volume of unrelated requests nor staffing issues justifies a delayed response,’” the decision stated.

On Monday, LPM took the unusual step of filing suit to compel city police to follow the law and produce the requested public records.

Louisville metro officials said they learned last week the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office did not notify the city’s records department about the attorney general’s decision.

“Once we learned of the decision we began working expeditiously to address the request,” Kevin Trager, a spokesperson for Mayor Craig Greenberg, said in an emailed statement.

Trager said the city will release the records as soon as they complete a review for any material that could warrant an invasion of privacy. He did not include an estimate of when that would be.

The Jefferson County Attorney’s office said in a statement it “inadvertently failed to send the decision to the administration.”

“We take full responsibility for this unfortunate error, which has delayed the city’s production of the responsive records,” according to the statement.

LPM President Stephen George said he intends to hold the city to account.

George said the station has decided to file suit after exhausting all other options. Greenberg's administration has obfuscated and delayed in delivering open records while allowing the backlog to grow, he said.

"I can think of little that has been as high profile and important to the present and future of this community than the behavior of the police department," George said.

Barbara Petty, the mother of the man slain in the parking lot near Churchill Downs, told LPM News Monday that she too would like LMPD to release the records.

“I would like for you to have them,” Petty said. “I think they should go on and give them to you.”

LPM News asked the mayor’s office to provide an update on the number of unfulfilled records requests. Trager did not respond directly and instead said they are continuing to work through the backlog.

“It’s important to note that we are also continuing to see a sharp increase in the number of requests, specifically for LMPD video,” he said in an email.

Trager said the records department is still in the process of hiring five new full time employees to work on records requests, and has filled one position.

He said the new department is now run by Deputy Mayor Dana Mayton, and will serve as a single point of contact for all of the city’s open records requests.

It’s not the first time the city’s records department has failed to produce public records in a timely manner. The Courier Journal sued Louisville Metro earlier this month for failing to respond to a 4-month-old request for search warrant applications related to the U.S. Department of Justice report on LMPD’s pattern of abuse and civil rights violations.

First Amendment attorney Michael Abate is representing LPM in its lawsuit, and the Courier Journal in its suit. In the complaint, Abate acknowledged it’s unusual to ask for an order compelling a public agency to follow the law.

“Unfortunately, it is essential. [Louisville Metro] and LMPD have shown over and over that they are unwilling to devote the time and resources to timely responding to [Open Records Act] requests, no matter how many times the attorney general tells them they must,” Abate said. “Only intervention by this court can compel [Louisville Metro government] to do what the General Assembly has commanded.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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