Public records lawsuits could cost city $300K this year

Public records lawsuits could cost city $300K this year
SEATTLE -- Newly obtained documents show the Seattle Police Department is willing to lose hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in lawsuits to keep police records a secret.

The department believes a public records fight over thousands of dash cam videos could carry a heavy price tag this year, according to the city's own internal documents.

SPD sued attorney James Egan after he requested police videos.

Documents Egan obtained show the department may be fighting a losing battle by trying to keep such records secret. He uncovered a city graph that shows since 2007, the city has made a growing number of payouts for failure to release public records.

"That was a surprise," Egan said, "That was a shocker."

The department has already paid out more than $100,000, and this year it expects the amount to nearly triple with a projected loss of at least $300,000.

"That's money flying out of my pocket as a taxpayer," Egan said.

Egan also discovered an email from the city attorney's office about a lawsuit filed by KOMO News. We sued last fall after SPD refused a request for police videos. The email indicates the city believes its chances of winning the case after court appeals are less than 50 percent.

"If that's what they anticipate paying out, why not just produce the records?" Egan said.

The city is also working to change state law to create a "privacy exemption" for police dash cam videos and body cameras.

Neither the city attorney's office nor the police department would comment on the story.