This Activist is Prying Loose Missouri Drug Task Force Records One Lawsuit At a Time

Last month, a Missouri state circuit judge did something nearly unheard of: She punished a public official for flouting transparency laws.

State Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce ruled that a Cole County prosecutor Mark Richardson “knowingly and purposefully” violated the state’s open records law when the prosecutor denied a records request by Missouri resident Aaron Malin seeking communications between the prosecutor’s office and a regional drug task force.

The $12,100 penalty wasn’t much as far as civil lawsuits go, but it was the largest ever handed down in Missouri for violating public record law.

And it was sweet vindication for Malin, a 24-year-old law student (and previous Reason contributor) who has filed nine public records lawsuits since 2014 against Missouri drug task forces and prosecutor offices for refusing to turn over documents on how they fight the drug war.

Those laws are supposed to guarantee public access to the government’s business, but Malin, through voluminous records requests, found the drug task forces were operating in virtual secrecy. One task force tried to deny its own existence to dodge a record request. Others refused to share budget information or were failing to keep records they were required by law to maintain. Malin is suing another task force for falsifying meeting minutes.

Such stonewalling is regrettably common across the country, but Malin’s litigious crusade to make Missouri law enforcement comply with transparency laws is notable not just because of his persistence, but because of the results.

One of the biggest problems with federal and state freedom of information laws, is they have no teeth. Public officials almost never face consequences for stonewalling records requests, beyond the inconvenience of being sued.

“We hope that this case will serve as a deterrent to government officials who consider not being transparent,” Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, said in a statement following the ruling. “The Sunshine Law ensures an open government and helps establish trust between the government and the people it represents.”

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 3206 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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