Monday, February 11, 2008

Make police reports available to the public

It is time to correct an injustice that currently exists in the Mississippi Code and that is the exemption of police reports from the Open Records Act. Law enforcement agencies are currently allowed to withold all police and incident reports from public by claiming they are part of the investigation. One would think that even the families of crime victims are able to get a copy of the initial police or incident report involving their loved ones. Sadly, such is not the case as The Clarion-Ledger reported yesterday:
"some law enforcement officials are reluctant to release details about an incident even to relatives of those involved.Hattiesburg insurance agent Eddie Stephenson has tried to find out details about the Feb. 4, 2005, death of his son, Matthew, who wrecked his vehicle while being chased by Lamar County deputies. The father has been blocked because the state's open-records law does not specifically require the public release of investigative records.After the wreck, Stephenson requested radio and dispatch logs and accident and investigative reports. Lamar County officials refused.."

Witholding police reports from the public is a slap in the face of all Mississippians as even the families of murder victims are not allowed to see the police reports. In the Spencer case, the family was kept from seeing the coroner's and police reports for several months, anguishing over not knowing when Ms. Spencer died while the police claimed it was part of the investigation. Such injustice occurs more frequently in more minor situations. For example, a person arrested several times for domestic violence can coach kids in youth sports leagues since the arrest reports would be denied to the public (true story). This is unfair for several reasons as the coach could be the victim of an unverifiable allegation while parents would constantly worry their children were around a wife-beater. If such reports were available, the coach could be cleared of the allegation or parents could read the narrative in the police report and take appropriate measures to protect their children. Suppose a woman wants to see if someone has ever been arrested for stalking or domestic violence before she dates a man, hires a babysitter, or has questions about a neighbor? Sorry honey, Mississippi says you are out of luck but don't worry, its for your own good.

Unfortunately, law enforcement officials have shown no interest in helping as they have fought to keep you, the public, from having access to police reports. The typical excuse is one used by the Sheriff of Forrest County:
Often times, there are graphic explanations about what happened at the incident that I don't think the public benefits from knowing," said Forrest County Sheriff Billy Magee. "Whether it's someone during a rape wrote something obscene on the victim's nude belly, or something else, there are often facts contained in the incident report that would be one of those things that could compromise the investigation." (see CL quote above for link)

Sheriff Redneck knows very well that no one is asking for details involved in a rape. Most laws in other states directing law enforcement agencies to make police reports available to the public have exceptions for the names of the victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault.

Sheriff Redneck is also dead wrong in stating that the public does not benefit from knowing graphic explanations. The public has a right to know what crimes are happening in their area as well as the nature of those crimes. Victims and their families have a right to find out exactly how the crime was reported. It is also not the Sheriff's job not to determine for himself what should be released to the public but the job our our elected representatives who write the laws.

Giving the public access to police reports will also make it easier to monitor the performance of police officers (and they know it). Jackson Police Detective Kent Daniels was arrested in 2000 by the Mississippi Highway Patrol for having drugs in his car when he was a patrolman. Through a leaked copy of the police report for the June beating of Heather Spencer by George Bell, it was learned that Detective Daniels inexplicably reduced the charges against Mr. Bell from a felony to a misdeanor. Then he is assigned as a bodyguard to the District Attorney by Frank Melton, raising more questions about this detective. The public has a right to inspect the 2000 arrest report of then-patrolman Daniels and other cops arrested and a right to see how such cases are adjudicated as it has a compelling interest in knowinig if its cops do drugs or commit other crimes while other cops and judges look the other way when they are caught.

Mississippians would be better served by adopting a law similar to Louisiana Code 44:4:
4)(a) The records of the arrest of a person, other than the report of the officer or officers investigating a complaint, until a final judgment of conviction or the acceptance of a plea of guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. However, the initial report of the officer or officers investigating a complaint, but not to apply to any followup or subsequent report or investigation, records of the booking of a person as provided in Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure Article 228, records of the issuance of a summons or citation, and records of the filing of a bill of information shall be a public record.
(b) The initial report shall set forth:
A narrative description of the alleged offense, including appropriate details thereof as determined by the law enforcement agency.
The name and identification of each person charged with or arrested for the alleged offense.
(iii) The time and date of the alleged offense.
(iv) The location of the alleged offense.
(v) The property involved.
(vi) The vehicles involved.
(vii) The names of investigating officers.
(c) Nothing herein shall be construed to require the disclosure of information which would reveal undercover or intelligence operations.
(d) Nothing herein shall be construed to require the disclosure of information which would reveal the identity of the victim of a sexual offense.

Bills have been proposed in the legislature that would grant the public access to initial police and incident reports (They will be discussed in the next post). One of the reasons why Mississippi is one of the most corrupt states in America is that its law enforcement officials are either lazy or are more interested in protecting their own as well as criminals instead of letting the Mississippians see what is going on in their neighborhoods. Every time a law enforcement official denies a request for a police report, he is helping a criminal despite his protests to the contrary. Since the police in Mississippi have chosen not to help the public, the keys to the public records car should be taken away from them and given back to the people of the Magnolia State.

Additional stories:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mississippi is too corrupt to open up the cesspool of bogus and otherwise outright lies sometimes referred to as incident reports. It’s the setup tool for corrupt officers/politicians to do a targeted citizen. They won’t be opening up those records of their own unconstitutional shenanigans misconduct and outright crimes against the people! That’s their private self-styled vigilante records stash and they don’t want to be opening up that can of worms, this is still Mississippi! That’s were they cover-up their crimes and flip it over on you sometimes referred to as flipping the script, everybody knows.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS