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WBRZ attorneys demand transparency from State Police after release of redacted records

2 weeks 1 day 8 hours ago Thursday, November 12 2020 Nov 12, 2020 November 12, 2020 5:40 PM November 12, 2020 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE- Attorneys representing WBRZ-TV are demanding transparency from Louisiana State Police one day after the WBRZ Investigative Unit published a story about records State Police released-- some of them totally unreadable and blacked out.

The WBRZ Investigative Unit requested emails from top LSP brass tied to Trooper August McKay's use of the n-word. In August, State Police said it would take about 30 days to compile. Instead, it took two months, and when the records were finally made available for viewing many of them were black pages. Typically, public entities may redact private identifying information or words but not entire pages.

"Certainly used to seeing individual elements of a page redacted, social security numbers things like that," WBRZ attorney Chase Tettleton said. "To see entire pages redacted that's shocking, almost outrageous."

Trooper August McKay was exposed by WBRZ in September after he flippantly used the n-word. His Apple watch mistakenly called an African-American co-worker is the excuse McKay gave when he was interviewed. He claimed he was not racist and was referring to his "deadbeat cousin" who had bill collectors after him.

WBRZ exposed that State Police failed to discipline McKay for the use of the slur because a letter of reprimand was drafted but not delivered to McKay.

"There's something going on here, a lack of transparency," Tettleton said. "It certainly looks like in this instance that State Police is not holding true to their obligation to the public records laws."

Tettleton said there are specific situations when records can be redacted, like if something is under a criminal investigation. The matter involving McKay never was investigated criminally.

"There are exceptions to the public records law," Tettleton said. "There are certain classes of documents classes of information that are not subject to disclosure. Embarrassing information, professionally harmful information, those are not exempted items of public records."

Some of the emails that were turned over to WBRZ show questions we asked about the McKay situation. A number of high ranking members of State Police passed the email around and responded to it but they redacted what they were saying.

"In other states we call these sunshine laws," Tettleton said. "The idea being that sunshine is the best antiseptic, openness and transparency roots out any corruption in government. So that's why public records are fundamentally accessible across the country and fundamentally accessible here."

WBRZ asked State Police for a response about why the records were redacted at 10:12 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 11. They got back to us at 5 p.m. on Nov. 12, saying some records were redacted due to their "deliberative process." We asked them to explain what that is.

State Police also said that other pages were redacted because they were not part of our request. They did not explain why the documents were placed in the file if they were not part of what we requested.

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