KOMO appeals police dashcam ruling to state Supreme Court

KOMO appeals police dashcam ruling to state Supreme Court »Play Video
SEATTLE -- KOMO News is taking the fight for the right to access public records to the state's highest court.

Late Thursday, attorneys representing KOMO News asked the state Supreme Court to overturn a King County judge's ruling in favor of the Seattle Police Department's right to deny the media - and the public - access to their dashcam videos and keep them sealed for three years. The three-year mark is also when the department's system is set to automatically delete those videos.

In past months, the Problem Solvers have investigated numerous stories involving police dashcam video, including the case of two Longshore workers who were handcuffed by police while waiting for their shift to begin, the arrest of a computer security expert for refusing to produce identification and the incident in which police officers showed dashcam video to a man's boss, nearly costing him his job.

KOMO News also reported the story of two young men who were told by a police officer that he would make up evidence against them. The officer was captured on tape telling the two wrongfully-arrested men, "Yeah, I'm gonna make stuff up" in order to get them convicted for robbery.

Last fall, KOMO sued the Seattle Police Department, arguing public records laws required them to grant the public acesss to dashcam videos as well as the database that keeps track of the videos.

Judge Jim Rogers just ruled SPD was wrong to keep the database from KOMO, and levied a fine and attorneys fees. But at the same time, Rogers also ruled that under privacy laws, the city has the right to keep those videos secret for three years.

But open government advocates say there is no expectation of privacy in a public traffic stop.

"If the police can use these videos to hold citizens accountable, then citizens should be able to use the same videos to hold police accountable," said Toby Nixon with the Washington Coalition for Open Government.

State lawmakers tried but failed to get a new law passed during the most recent session. Howvever, lawmakers say they plan to try again.

"The whole point of having dashcam videos is for accountability to the public, and to make sure there aren't violations of civil rights," said Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-North Seattle.

Community groups like El Centro de la Raza see the judge's ruling as a setback.

However, one of the goals in SPD's own 20/20 vision plan is to develop a transparency initiative in order to release as much information as is allowed by law.

Both the city's attorney's office and SPD have refused to comment given the pending appeal.