Kenosha Private Investigator Files Records Lawsuit Against Sheriff
Wisconsin Transparency Project challenges Sheriff’s claim that routine incident report is an exempt medical record
Back in 2003, a Kenosha firefighter was stopped by a Sheriff’s deputy for drunk driving and was found to be in possession of a loaded gun and open alcohol containers. The firefighter was neither arrested nor charged with a crime, simply released into the custody of the fire chief, according to news reports at the time.
Fast-forward to the present, and Kenosha resident and private investigator Kevin Mathewson made a request for the incident reports from that routine traffic stop. Instead of releasing the records, as it had to the reporter back in 2003, the Sheriff’s Department denied the request in a form letter, claiming that the reports from the incident were “medical records.”
“The Sheriff’s denial is groundless,” said Attorney Tom Kamenick, President and Founder of the Wisconsin Transparency Project. “Exemptions for medical records are very narrow and don’t apply to reports generated while performing law enforcement functions.”
Mathewson filed a lawsuit in Kenosha County Circuit Court earlier this week, asking the court to order the Sheriff to release the requested records. If the court finds that the Sheriff violated the Open Records Law, the Department will be liable for Mathewson’s court costs and attorney fees, and potentially punitive damages.
Mathewson commented on how a lawsuit is sometimes necessary to combat a culture of secrecy: “In Kenosha County it seems folks often have to fight to get public records that should be freely handed over. This isn’t how it should be." Kamenick added, “As a society we are learning that law enforcement agencies need more accountability and public oversight. Restoring public trust requires complete transparency, particularly when it comes to investigating the misbehavior and crimes of their own.”
“Public records law gives us citizens tools to maintain oversight of our government,” concluded Mathewson. “When the government ignores these laws we all suffer.”
Read the complaint here.