Ferguson PD Lies About Why It Released Videotape Of Store Robbery, Lies Some More When Confronted With The Facts
from the worst.-wagon-circling.-ever. dept
In the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown, the Ferguson Police made several ill-advised moves. The biggest was the paramilitary force that greeted protests, looking for all the world like a unit flown in from Kabul, followed shortly thereafter by the detainment of several journalists. The decision to withhold the officer’s name was also received poorly, but this was complicated by one baffling move — the release of a store surveillance tape that appeared to show Brown stealing cigarillos from a local store shortly before he was shot dead.
This tape’s release was purely self-motivated. Even the Dept. of Justice — which had stepped in shortly after everything went to hell in Ferguson — advised against it. The only conceivable reason for the release was a post-facto “justification” of Officer Darren Wilson’s decision to shoot an unarmed man several times.
But the Ferguson PD tried to cover up this motivation. Matthew Key at TheBlot has dug into the events surrounding the release of the surveillance tape and found nothing but Ferguson PD lies.
The chief of police for the Ferguson Police Department misled members of the media and the public when he asserted that his hand was forced in releasing surveillance footage that purported to show 18-year-old resident Michael Brown engaged in a strong-arm robbery at a convenience store minutes before he was fatally shot by a police officer.
The tape — released on the same day the PD belatedly revealed the name of the officer who shot Brown — was supposedly released as the result of “multiple” FOIA requests from journalists and other citizens.
“We’ve had this tape for a while, and we had to diligently review the information that was in the tape, determine if there was any other reason to keep it,” Jackson said at the press event. “We got a lot of Freedom of Information requests for this tape, and at some point it was just determined we had to release it. We didn’t have good cause, any other reason not to release it under FOI.”
But another FOIA request exposed this claim for what it is. TheBlot used a FOIA request to obtain all FOIA requests sent to the Ferguson PD. And it couldn’t find a single one that specifically requested that tape.
Last month, TheBlot Magazine requested a copy of all open records requests made by members of the public — including journalists and news organizations — that specifically sought the release of the convenience store surveillance video. The logs, which were itself obtained under Missouri’s open records law, show only one journalist — Joel Currier with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch — broadly requested any and all multimedia evidence “leading up to” Brown’s death on Aug. 9.
With that lie uncovered, the Ferguson Police decided to double down. A statement issued to TheBlot claimed that multiple other FOIA requests were made orally, due to heavy traffic to the city’s website and email server. Possibly believable, but was anyone logging these verbal requests? And could this be where the multiple requests for the surveillance video originated? The answers are “yes,” “well, actually no,” and “shut up.”
The first response:
City of Ferguson attorney Stephanie Karr said that “many requests were made verbally due to the fact that the City’s website and email were down at several points during that week” and that “city personnel cataloged all requests and treated them in the same manner as it would any Sunshine Law request.
So, if they were logged, there’d be some record of a bunch of people asking for the release of the surveillance tape, right? Cue backpedal #1:
Karr responded to a request for comment Saturday afternoon by denying the City of Ferguson had a log of verbal records requests.
“You assume that the Custodian of Records, somehow, logged every single question, statement or request for information, verbal or otherwise, made to every single police officer, city employee, consultant, appointed official or elected official,” Karr told TheBlot by e-mail. “That assumption is, quite simply, wrong and unrealistic.”
Actually, TheBlot didn’t “assume” anything. It simply took Karr’s first statement at face value. Apparently, everything about the first statement was a lie. On top of that, the Ferguson PD may have violated the Sunshine Law by not logging requests it filled or denied. TheBlot has a request in for the logged verbal FOIA requests and in the meantime notes that the PD is still withholding both the incident report for the shooting (which may not even exist) as well as the incident report for the robbery.
Just a little more evidence pointing towards the unreliability of public officials, especially when caught in the middle of misconduct. Not only has the PD apparently lied about its reasons for releasing the tape, but it continues to withhold information about its involvement in the shooting of Michael Brown. Earlier, it claimed Officer Wilson suffered injuries — possibly severe — during his “interaction” with Brown. Those have proven false as well, with Wilson’s own post-shooting text messages saying nothing about sustaining an injury as well as citizen video showing Wilson standing around the shooting scene for several minutes without seeking medical attention.
Odds are, no one directly requested this video. The release of the video coincided with the forced release of the officer’s name in a blatant attempt to provide justification for his actions. While undoubtedly true that the city’s website and email server have been hit pretty hard during the past few weeks, that’s no excuse for city employees to fulfill or deny FOIA requests without documentation — especially when its track record so far shows an urge to bury and obfuscate.