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Posted at 12:47 PM ET, 01/ 6/2011

Richmond police: Give that back

By Tom Jackman
Tom Jackman

It was an innocent enough request from a citizen to the Richmond Police Department: Please, under the Freedom of Information Act, give me copies of your various operating manuals.

The Richmond police complied, and last month sent over 600 pages, and charged $89.25 for the processing cost. But then they learned that the citizen was an anarchist, and a member of a group called Richmond Copwatch, and that the documents were promptly posted online.

The police now want their stuff back. And taken down from the website. And they've filed for an emergency protective order in Richmond Circuit Court, as well as a permanent injunction to prohibit the dissemination of the information.

The American Civil Liberties Union is going to fight back. "There are both First Amendment principles and practical considerations at play here, and the city of Richmond has failed on both counts," ACLU Executive Director Kent Willis said in a news release. "Once the government has released documents, the First Amendment protects the right of individuals to do with them as they please. Any attempt to restrict the dissemination of the information is censorship, pure and simple."

Some of the manuals include the Richmond department's Emergency Operations Plan, the Homeland Security Criminal Intelligence Unit Operating Manual and the Mobile Command Center Operating Manual. A quick review of them doesn't seem to indicate much in the way of juicy or top secret information -- the Homeland Security manual is mostly a description of the organization -- but Richmond police argued in their court motions that "dissemination of these documents in any form to the public jeopardizes and endangers Richmond's police officers and citizens."

Richmond police apparently did not make any type of request for the documents to be returned before serving the requester, who uses the name "Mo Karn," with its motions on Tuesday. Richmond police spokesman Gene Lepley said he couldn't comment on pending litigation.

In a blog post, Karn wrote that, "I don't believe the information in these documents is classified or should be exempt from FOIA. It's not like it is manuals on how to drive their various vehicles or anything actually explicit. Beyond that," she adds, "I definitely believe this has a lot more to do with politics."

Karn noted that the first paragraph of the motions is that "Defendant Mo Karn is a known and admitted anarchist." Karn asked, "And that has what to do with FOIA? Freedom of Information Act Except for Anarchists would be FOIAEFA. I didn't request [anything] through FOIAEFA."

No court date has been set and the documents remain online.

This post was updated to correct the spelling of Richmond police spokesman Gene Lepley's name.

By Tom Jackman  | January 6, 2011; 12:47 PM ET
Categories:  From the Courthouse, Tom Jackman, Virginia  
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Posted by: 4thFloor | January 6, 2011 1:50 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: awfulexcuse1 | January 6, 2011 3:06 PM | Report abuse

can't blame Wikileaks for this !Where is Larry the Cable Guy when you need him...

Posted by: 10bestfan | January 6, 2011 4:48 PM | Report abuse

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