State Supreme Court takes up KOMO suit against SPD

State Supreme Court takes up KOMO suit against SPD
SEATTLE -- The public's right to an inside seat on issues of possible police misconduct is now in the hands of the Washington Supreme Court.

At issue is access to police dashcam videos and how long police departments can keep those videos from the public.

After repeatedly refusing to release the public records, KOMO News sued the Seattle Police Department, and the case has now reached the state Supreme Court.

"We ask the court to find that SPD violated the Public Records Act," said KOMO attorney Judy Endejan.

The arguments before the Supreme Court are the last step in a years-long effort by KOMO to use police videos as a means of checking officer behavior.

KOMO first requested a database and copies of Seattle police dashcam videos in 2010 during a Problem Solvers investigation about excessive force and biased policing.

"SPD'S treatment of those three requests is a poster child for agency mishandling of a PRA request," Endejan said.

In spite of numerous requests, the department told KOMO that the video records -- the way the station asked for them -- didn't exist.

"If it's something that we can understand and we can work with, we go beyond what is required under the law," said assistant City Attorney Mary Perry.

After more than a year, the city did provide KOMO with a database, but then refused to supply the dashcam videos, saying there was a three-year exemption under the law.

The department's manual says videos are automatically deleted after three years, although Perry said the department is now saving them.

On Tuesday, Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez appeared to question the entire practice.

"The public should trust SPD because SPD says, 'We don't follow our written policy and we've in fact kept all of them,'" he said.

Perry declined to comment on the story after the hearing, but KOMO news director Holly Gauntt said the case is about more than just KOMO and the Seattle Police Department.

"This is about every single citizen in the state of Washington and their right to have access to the videos that the police have, and their right to hold police accountable," Gauntt said.

The Supreme Court bypassed the appeals court system and took the case directly, which they can do in instances where they believe there is substantial public importance.

Typically the court takes anywhere from three to six months to issue its decision.