OUACHITA PARISH, LA (02/19/20)– On January 15th, Police Chief Eugene Ellis announced his retirement from the Monroe Police Department. Public Information Officer, Reginald Brown, was later appointed as interim. However, request into Brown’s past with the department led to a lawsuit being filed by the city.
The City of Monroe filed a petition in the 4th Judicial District Court against two individuals and The Ouachita Citizen. All three requested the internal affairs records of Monroe interim Police Chief, Reginald Brown.
“This is an incredibly interesting lawsuit because very rarely does the government sue its citizens for exercising their constitutional right,” said Scott Sternberg, Ouachita Citizen’s Attorney.
According to The Ouachita Citizen’s attorney, the city filed the petition because they want the judge to tell them what needs to be turned over to the public and what doesn’t.
“I don’t know if they are hiding anything, but I do think they could have made the determination of whether they could turn this file on their own. I don’t think they needed the judges help,” said Sternberg.
According to a press release from the City of Monroe, it says “This action was not taken to delay responding to any particular request; but it was done to ensure that the city appropriately takes into account the public’s right to know and the employees’ right to privacy.”
However, attorney Sternberg says the city did something that wasn’t necessary.
“It’s like showing up to a knife fight with a bazooka,” said Sternberg.
Now, these individuals will have to explain why they were sued when filling out government paperwork.
“I don’t think that’s something these government entities think about before they go sue these individuals. What this will do to their public records when they are applying for a job or trying to get a loan,” said Sternberg.
According to the suit, The Ouachita Citizen only requested the records one time on January 24th. Attorney Sternberg says they are going to fight the suit and remind the city that requesting public records is something that shouldn’t discourage citizens from doing so.
“The judge that this has been allotted to is very thoughtful. I’m confident that he’s going to go through the records and I’m confident that he’s going to order the records open and he’s gonna award us our attorney charges and costs,” said Sternberg.
In addition to The Ouachita Citizen, Nicholas Farrar Sr. and Gwendolyn Dickson and are also being sued.
CITY OF MONROE STATEMENT:
“The City of Monroe firmly believes in an open and transparent government. Recently, the City has received numerous requests for public records related to the internal, investigatory files of several current and former Monroe Police Department employees. The City recognizes the public’s right to know about the day-to-day operations of its government and its employees, but it also recognizes that individual employees may have a constitutional or statutory right to privacy in their personnel records. To that end, the City also has an obligation as an employer to protect the privacy interests of its employees. Many of the employee’s subject to these requests have expressed their formal opposition to the release of their personnel or investigatory files.
Because of these competing interests, and the multiple requests that the City has received for this information, the City filed a Petition today in the Fourth Judicial District Court, Ouachita Parish, seeking a declaration concerning what documents in connection with an employee’s internal, investigatory file must be produced in response to a public records request. This action was not taken to delay responding to any particular request; but it was done to ensure that the City appropriately takes into account the public’s right to know and the employees’ right to privacy. We hope that the court’s guidance in this case will serve as a useful tool to help us respond to similar public records requests in the future.” – Angie Sturdivant, City Attorney