Vermont Supreme Court Hears Inspection Of Public Records Case Involving Burlington Police

Apr 17, 2019

Vermont's highest court heard arguments Wednesday over whether Burlington Police can charge a fee to someone who wants to look at body camera footage.

In 2017, Burlington resident Reed Doyle says he saw police use excessive force against children.

Doyle asked to see the body camera footage. The department said it would need to redact portions of the video and they'd charge him at least $220.50.

The city of Burlington argued that in order to redact the record, they have to make a copy which, by law, means they can charge a fee. Assistant City Attorney Justin St. James said that’s what they’re doing in this case.

“Public agencies can't start redacting originals or else there would be problems. ... In our mind it is a new record the minute that redactions are applied, because just logically they can't be applied to an original,” St. James said Wednesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont represents Doyle, and staff attorney Jay Diaz argued Wednesday at the Vermont Supreme Court that redacting a video is not the same as a creating a new record.

“Redacting a record, redacting information, is actually just the blocking out or hiding of certain information that is in an existing public record,” Diaz said.

In 2017, Reed Doyle says he saw police use excessive force against children. He asked to review body camera footage of the incident. Burlington Police agreed, but said it would charge a fee.
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR

Several agencies, including Vermont's secretary of state and New England First Amendment Coalition, filed briefs in support of the ACLU's position.

The court will now deliberate and issue a ruling, which could take a few months.

Last October, Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo told VPR the department investigated the incident Doyle witnessed, but declined to give more information, saying it was a personnel matter. Del Pozo said then the officer still works for the Burlington Police.