Lawsuit seeks to force sheriff's office to turn over surveillance video from alleged March 2011 theft
A retired Ann Arbor pathologist has filed a lawsuit against the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, claiming he was not given the full video of an alleged theft from a court employee’s car in 2011.
According to court records, a 14-D District Court clerk had $20 put in the cup holder of her car by her husband on March 8, 2011 for lunch money. The next day, Mike Radzik, the Ypsilanti Township police services coordinator, received an email from a court employee stating the woman believed her car had been broken into and the money stolen. Radzik was asked if the security cameras could be used to see who got into the car.
On March 9, 2011, Radzik emailed Sheriff Jerry Clayton about a “potentially sensitive personnel situation.” Two days later, a copy of the video was turned over to the sheriff’s office special investigator.
The contents of the video caused the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office to start an internal investigation into the incident. A report from that investigation found that a sheriff’s employee, who was accused of the theft, was not responsible for the larceny.
Smith filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the video of the incident on Oct. 11, which was denied one week later. The lawsuit states the reason for the denial was the video was exempt, but Smith contends the sheriff’s office did not specifically mention a statute under which they were claiming exemption.
An appeal was filed on Oct. 19, and on Oct. 31 Smith received a letter claiming two statutes and an affidavit from Undersheriff Mark Ptaszek describing the value of releasing the tape versus withholding it, the lawsuit states.
Smith argues the video should not be exempt from FOIA requests because it existed before it was put into the accused employee’s personnel file or an internal investigation was ever opened.
“The defendant’s explanations are insufficient as a matter of law to justify nondisclosure of the video sought in the FOIA Request,” the lawsuit states.
Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Derrick Jackson did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit. It’s been sheriff’s office policy in the past not to comment on internal investigations.
Smith is asking the court to declare the denial of the FOIA request, and the explanation for the denial, unlawful, according to the lawsuit. He’s also asking the court to force the release of the video, in addition to payment of legal fees and award $500 in punitive damages, the lawsuit states.