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D.C. body-cam access aired on Newseum TV

D.C. is at forefront of national debate over need to protect public access with sensitivity to crime victims' privacy concerns.

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Coalition updates nationwide body cam access report

Find out how states, cities are addressing thorny issues of collection, retention and public access.

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Coalition's first amicus brief tests Council exemption claim

Superior Court ruling would create 'FOIA black hole' from which Council records might never escape.

Posted on Wednesday, April 10, 2019 - 10:36pm

Is a criminal trial “public” (as the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution requires) if the judge questions prospective jurors out of audience earshot?

Jonathan Blades was headed for trial in D.C. Superior Court in January 2015 on multiple felony charges stemming from a late-night fight and shooting in February 2014 at 20th and L Streets, N.W., His fate would be in the hands of a jury of D.C. residents, summoned at random and seated after individuals talked at the bench with Associate Judge Michael Ryan about their answers to his questions about disqualifying factors.  

Judge Ryan masked these exchanges using a “husher” (or white noise device) so only he, Blades, the attorneys and the court reporter could understand. Those in the courtroom audience could see but not hear the proceedings.

Attorneys for Blades objected at the time, but Judge Ryan went ahead. He made no specific findings of special facts requiring confidentiality (as some earlier cases said were required), only a general justification, citing his concern about “the candor of prospective jurors,” which he said was “[b]ased on 20 years of being a trial lawyer and more than 10 years of being a [j]udge.” The judge explained that it was his “experience and belief that [potential jurors] are less forthcoming in response especially to sensitive questions when they don’t have, at least, the cover of the husher and being up at the bench.”

Posted on Thursday, March 21, 2019 - 2:29pm

After eight months, The Washington Post has won its fight for release of police body-worn camera video showing the June 2017 traffic stop of D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8). Background on the case is here.

And D.C. activist April Goggans has lost her case seeking records (that police say mostly don’t exist) from her experience of several years of police surveillance and harassment at her house in Ward 8 and in the neighborhood.

Trayon White Sr. Case

The parties on March 6 filed a short notice to the court that the case may now be closed because the Post and police “settled all claims.” Without any trial or decision on the merits, there is no legal precedent.

But the press won. An individual familiar with the details told the D.C. Open Government Coalition the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department reversed themselves and released the video. The original incident occurred when police noticed White was driving with no headlights, cited him and also arrested him after finding his license suspended. MPD at first denied the video as exempt under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act claiming release would invade White’s privacy.

The District’s privacy defense went a bit limp when White told a reporter in January that release was OK with him.