Friday, August 15, 2008

City of Jackson denies requests for police incident reports

Some local government officials apparently have not received word the Mississippi Public Records Act changed on July 1, 2008. A request was filed in July with the City of Jackson for a copy of the initial police incident reports for the murder of Heather Spencer and kidnapping of Elizabeth Hall by George Bell, III.

Under the new law, the government must make available to the public a copy of the police incident report. The report must include the names of the persons involved (excluding certain classes of victims or undercover agents), the charge, and a narrative description of what occurred.

Unfortunately, my request was rejected by Monica Joiner, Deputy Attorney for the City of Jackson. Her letter of denial stated:
"Our office has reviewed the public record requests you submitted on July 25, 2008. for the
following information:
1. Copy of initial police incident report on the kidnapping of Elizabeth Hall by George Bell, III, on September 11, 2007.
2. Copy of initial police incident report of homicide of Heather Spencer on September 11, 2007.
Section 25-61-12(2)(a) of the Mississippi Code Annotated (1972). as included states in part,
"when in the possession of a law enforcement agency, investigative reports shall be exempt from the provisions of this chapter." In response to your requests specifically, the reports you seek contain information beyond the scope of the matters contained in an incident report and are therefore categorized as investigative reports, thus, exempt from disclosure pursuant to Section 25-61-12(2)(a

Frankly, I expected the City to find some reason not to comply with the law, given the history of this case. The reasons stated by Ms. Joiner are completely at odds with the statute, as there is a subsection (c) to section (2) that ALSO states:
"(c) Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to exempt from public disclosure a law enforcement incident report. An incident report shall be a public record. A law enforcement agency may release information in addition to the information contained in the incident report."$FILE/Public%20Records%20Act.htm?OpenElement

"Shall" MEANS "Shall". That is a mandate. Period. What is also interesting is how Ms. Joiner said I was asking for more than what was written in the incident report after admitting all I was asking for was an incident report.

One must wonder if the City is not familiar with the law, as one would hate to think the law is being deliberately ignored, given the controversial nature of the case. After JPD unilaterally reduced the charges against George Bell, III for his June 2007 beating of Ms. Spencer and the subsequent doubts raised in the case, one would think a more transparent policy in compliance with the law had been adopted. Unfortunately, such is not the case, as the attorneys for the City of Jackson once again are working to ensure the public is denied access to public records as mandated by the legislature.

Copy of denial letter:


Anonymous said...

Okay, so what is next? You are the ONLY one doing real work here. Need financial help? If we are to participate, in any way, then we need the marching orders.

Kingfish said...

Thanks. I'll DEFINITELY remember that offer. I'll keep you guys up to date on developments as they occur.

Tom Head said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Head said...

Have you tried requesting the incident report from the domestic violence arrest...? Might have more luck there.

I checked 25-61-12 and could find no references of any kind to investigative reports; the section has to do with protecting the confidentiality of law enforcement personnel home addresses. Has this section been revised, with the revisions somehow not incorporated into the publicly accessible version of the Code six weeks after the revision has taken effect? Shameful if true. People can hardly be expected to obey laws that aren't made public.

Kingfish said...

all government agencies have copies of the new law WHICH I POSTED, the LINK and the TEXT!!!

and its on the ETHICS COMMISSION WEBSITE!!! They are aware of the law as the Ethics Commission made a point to notify all government bodies of the new changes in the law. The Clarion-Ledger also tried to obtain incident reports a few weeks ago and ran into similar roadblocks so Jackson is very familiar with this law.

They have no excuse whatsoever. The law says they have to provide a copy of the incident report. no ifs, ands, or may's.

Kingfish said...

§ 25-61-12. Personal information of law enforcement or court personnel and officers; exemption from Public Records Act; exception

(1) The home address, any telephone number of a privately paid account or other private information of any law enforcement officer, criminal investigator, judge or district attorney or the spouse or child of such law enforcement officer, criminal investigator, judge or district attorney shall be exempt from the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983. This exemption does not apply to any court transcript or recording if given under oath and not otherwise excluded by law.

(2) (a) When in the possession of a law enforcement agency, investigative reports shall be exempt from the provisions of this chapter; however, a law enforcement agency, in its discretion, may choose to make public all or any part of any investigative report.

(b) Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to prevent any and all public bodies from having among themselves a free flow of information for the purpose of achieving a coordinated and effective detection and investigation of unlawful activity. Where the confidentiality of records covered by this section is being determined in a private hearing before a judge under Section 25-61-13, the public body may redact or separate from such records the identity of confidential informants or the identity of the person or persons under investigation or other information other than the nature of the incident, time, date and location.

(c) Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to exempt from public disclosure a law enforcement incident report. An incident report shall be a public record. A law enforcement agency may release information in addition to the information contained in the incident report.

(d) Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to require the disclosure of information that would reveal the identity of the victim.

(3) Personal information of victims, including victim impact statements and letters of support on behalf of victims that are contained in records on file with the Mississippi Department of Corrections and State Parole Board shall be exempt from the provisions of this chapter.

Buck Allred said...

hey 'fish:

Very interesting. And great work! Are you going to file a motion?

-Buck Allred

PS: I knew George fairly well. Mostly several years before these incidents. It's cliche, but true: "he always seemed nice."

Kingfish said...

Well, well. Ladd finally criticizes Ms. Bell:

What kills me about this is that, regardless of whether she is telling the truth or not, Bell does not seem to deny that she was in the home after her son brutally killed Spencer, and presumably without calling the police or an ambulance. It is shocking to the senses to hear the law professor say that isn't criminal; it rather reminds me of thing that Melton has done that people claim not to be illegal. It's easy to forget that people have to be charged with what the law specifically forbids.

But if her account is true—and we have no way at this stage of knowing whether it is or not; witnesses have been instructed not to talk to media about that night—maybe the civil route will be more conducive to justice for the Spencers.

The whole thing disgusts me. Whatever the truth is, what a fall for a woman who presented herself as so perfect.

I know she was his mother, but I can see no friggin' excuse on the planet for not calling the police or an ambulance if she knew what had happened. Humanity should trump blood at some point. Shudder.

posted by ladd on 08/18/08 at 12:55 PM

No problem. Glad to see she sees Ms. Bell the way the rest of us do.

Now how about publicly apologizing to the family of Heather for that "most intriguing person of 2007" award for Ms. Bell or that story recently written by Ms. Mott that was filled with errors.

Or how about demanding on your pages that Robert Schuler Smith prosecute Ms. Bell for aiding and abetting a fugitive when she held a dinner party for him at her house knowing there was an active warrant for his arrest.

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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.

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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.

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