Bill Lueders Sues Madison Police Department Over Record Delays
Department takes over a year to produce internal disciplinary records
Madison journalist Bill Lueders, formerly of Isthmus, Wisconsin Watch and The Progressive, has filed a lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court seeking to compel the Madison Police Department to cease its illegal delays in responding to record requests. The Department regularly tells requesters that it will take over a year to get records of internal investigations and discipline.
Lueders, who also serves as the elected president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, initially made a request for investigatory records for a single incident – a sergeant who had written an intemperate email to supervisors and received a one-day suspension. After being told it would take approximately 14 months to get those records, he investigated further and learned that while requests for MPD incident reports typically get fulfilled fairly quickly, requests for disciplinary records are handled in a different manner, resulting in delays of more than a year. Lueders made two additional requests for disciplinary records in early April; he was told in late June to expect to wait another 11 to 12 months.
State law requires records to be produced “as soon as practicable and without delay,” which the state’s Attorney General recommends should be less than 10 business days for most requests. The Madison Police Department has been previously sued over its long delays in responding to records requests, but it appears that the problem persists.
“Making requesters wait months, even more than a year, to receive records to which they are entitled, violates the spirit and the letter of the state’s Open Records Law,” said Lueders. “It is especially important that the public have prompt access to records regarding allegations of employee misconduct as is the case here.”
Lueders was a named plaintiff in two lawsuits filed against the Madison Police Department in the mid-1990s by Isthmus, the Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times. Both led to judicial rulings that the public is entitled to records regarding complaints against police officers. But now, the department’s long delays have effectively rendered those wins meaningless.
Tom Kamenick, President and Founder of the Wisconsin Transparency Project, which is representing Lueders, added, “Lueders’ request is not an isolated issue. Dozens of requesters have been told they will have to wait a year to get records. This is unacceptable – the police department needs to devote more resources to fulfilling this basic function.”