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Officials in Ferguson, Missouri, are charging nearly 10 times the cost of some of their own employees’ salaries before they will agree to turn over files under public records laws about the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Officials in Ferguson, Missouri, are charging nearly 10 times the cost of some of their own employees’ salaries before they will agree to turn over files under public records laws about the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Missouri’s attorney general on Monday, after the AP first disclosed the practice, contacted Ferguson’s city attorney to ask for more information regarding fees related to document requests, the attorney general’s spokeswoman said.

The move to charge high fees discourages journalists and civil rights groups from investigating the shooting and its aftermath. And it follows dozens of records requests to Ferguson under the state’s Sunshine Law, which can offer an unvarnished look into government activity.

The city has demanded high fees to produce copies of records that, under Missouri law, it could give away free if it determined the material was in the public’s interest to see. Instead, in some cases, the city has demanded high fees with little explanation or cost breakdown.

In one case, it billed The Associated Press $135 an hour — for nearly a day’s work — merely to retrieve a handful of email accounts since the shooting. That fee compares with an entry-level, hourly salary of $13.90 in the city clerk’s office, and it didn’t include costs to review the emails or release them. The AP has not paid for the search because it has yet to negotiate the cost.

Price-gouging for government files is one way that local, state and federal agencies have responded to requests for potentially embarrassing information they may not want released. Open records laws are designed to give the public access to government records at little or no cost, and have historically exposed waste, wrongdoing and corruption.

On Monday, the Radio Television Digital News Association, a media advocacy organization, asked Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to investigate Ferguson for charging high fees for records requests.

“These exorbitant fees are merely a tactic of delay and intimidation,” Mike Cavender, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “The public has a right to these records without interference.”

A spokesman for Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon referred questions about the high fees to Koster’s office, which handles freedom-of-information complaints. A spokeswoman for his office said late Friday that none had been filed.

Since Brown’s death and ensuing protests, news organizations, nonprofit groups and everyday citizens have submitted records requests to Ferguson officials, asking for police reports, records about Brown and the personnel files of Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown Aug. 9.

“The first line of defense is to make the requester go away,” said Rick Blum, who coordinates the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition of media groups that advocates for open government. He said charging hefty fees “to simply cut and paste is a popular tactic.”

The Washington Post was told it would need to pay $200 at minimum for its requests, including city officials’ emails since Aug. 9 discussing Brown’s shooting, citizen complaints against Ferguson officers and Wilson’s personnel file. The website Buzzfeed requested in part emails and memos among city officials about Ferguson’s traffic-citation policies and changes to local elections, but was told it would cost unspecified thousands of dollars to fulfill.

Inquiries about Ferguson’s public records requests were referred to the city’s attorney, Stephanie Karr, who declined to respond to repeated interview requests from the AP since earlier this month. A Ferguson official Monday referred an additional request for comment to the city’s media consultant.

Some state open records laws provide records for free or little cost, while others like Missouri can require fees that “result in the lowest charges for search, research and duplication.” The AP asked for a fee waiver because it argued the records would serve the public interest, as the law allows, but that request was denied.

In late August, the AP asked Ferguson officials for copies of several police officials’ emails and text messages, including those belonging to Wilson and Chief Thomas Jackson. The AP sought those records to reveal the city’s behind-the-scenes response to the shooting and public protests.

Ferguson told the AP it wanted nearly $2,000 to pay a consulting firm for up to 16 hours of work to retrieve messages on its own email system, a practice that information technology experts call unnecessary. The firm, St. Louis-based Acumen Consulting, wouldn’t comment specifically on Ferguson’s contract, but said the search could be more complicated and require technicians to examine tape backups.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a public records lawsuit days after the shooting for Brown-related police reports, but ultimately received a censored report that omitted officers’ names and other details usually released in such documents.

Jonathan Groves, president of the Missouri Sunshine Coalition and a former daily journalist, said that while public agencies can legally charge reasonable fees for records, an unfettered Sunshine Law is nonetheless an important tool “so that we have faith in what the government is doing.”

Other governments also have demanded spectacular fees. During the 2008 presidential campaign, for instance, news organizations asked for emails belonging to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice presidential nominee.

The Anchorage Press said officials at first wanted $6,500 in search fees, leading the newspaper to withdraw its request. Thousands of pages of those emails were ultimately provided to news organizations for about $725 in copying charges.

More recently, Nixon’s office didn’t charge the AP for copies of the governor’s calendar. Those records showed Nixon, a Democrat, didn’t completely scratch his regular schedule until five days after Brown’s shooting — amid violent clashes between police and protesters — so he could devote his time fully to managing the crisis.

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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South Carolina police officer arrested after dash cam video shows him shooting unarmed man in traffic stop in Columbia

OLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

The Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office released dash cam video in a trooper-involved shooting earlier this month.

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  • Former trooper charged with assault and battery out on bond

    Lance Cpl. Sean Groubert, a state trooper who was fired after shooting an unarmed man at a gas station earlier this month, has been charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, jail records show.

    The shooting happened in the parking lot of a Circle K on Broad River Road Sept. 4 after Groubert pulled Levar Edward Jones over for a seatbelt violation.

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The shooting happened in the parking lot of a Circle K on Broad River Road Sept. 4 after Lance Cpl. Sean Groubert pulled Levar Edward Jones over for a seatbelt violation.

In the video released Wednesday night, Groubert asks for Jones’ license. Jones then checks his back pocket before going back to his vehicle.

Groubert then fires several shots at Jones before Jones falls to the ground.

While Jones is on the ground with a gunshot wound to the hip, he asks Groubert “What did I do, sir?”

Groubert then asks Jones if he was hit.

“I don’t know what happened,” Jones says in the video. “I just grabbed my license.”

Groubert explains to Jones the reason he shot at him was because Jones dove head first in the vehicle.

“I just asked for prayers for Mr. Jones’ family,” Rev. Kenneth Spry said. “I ask for prayers for his family, because I know this causes a change in life.”

Spry, who is a reverend at Bethlehem Baptist Church and was at the scene, said he’s elated by what he calls justice.

Groubert is facing an assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature charge, which could carry 20 years in prison.

“They didn’t waste a lot of time because of the public stewing and brewing over this situation,” Spry said.

Barney Giese, Groubert’s defense attorney, said there’s more than one way to interpret the video and told the judge Wednesday his client is not guilty and was justified in shooting Jones who was reaching for his license.

Giese, who served as the 5th Judicial Circuit Solicitor for the past 16 years, said Jones reached for his license “aggressively” and Trooper Groubert thought he was reaching for a gun.

According to the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, Groubert posted $75,000 bond Wednesday night.

Court records show Groubert’s next court date is Oct. 24.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Woman punched by California Highway Patrol officer to receive $1.5 million settlement; officer agrees to resign

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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USS Philippine Sea launches Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles to combat ISIL

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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MICHAEL BROWN FATALLY SHOT IN FERGUSON, MO.

MICHAEL BROWN FATALLY SHOT IN FERGUSON, MO.

Photo: People line up outside Ferguson, Mo., town hall meeting
 
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Posted by on September 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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FSU quarterback Jameis Winston suspended for first half against Clemson

Jeff Romance

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy again in 2014. Winston led the Seminoles to an undefeated season and their third national championship as a freshman last season.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has been suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game against Clemson after he was seen shouting an obscene sexual phrase on campus Tuesday.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher said Wednesday the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner would sit out the first half against the Tigers.

“It was not a good decision,” Fisher said during Wednesday’s Atlantic Coast Conference teleconference. “You can’t make certain statements that are derogatory or inflammatory to any person, race or gender. You have to understand that. You have to be very intelligent about what you say, (because) it matters.”

The top-ranked Seminoles face No. 22 Clemson in the ACC opener for both teams.

Source

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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NFL announces new drug policy; Wes Welker, Orlando Scandrick and Stedman Bailey reinstated to play this week

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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