VTDigger yesterday released the police body camera footage at the center of the ACLU’s recent Vermont Supreme Court victory in Doyle v. City of Burlington Police Department. That case was filed after the Burlington Police Department withheld the video from ACLU of Vermont client Reed Doyle, demanding that he pay hundreds of dollars to view the footage. The Supreme Court rejected that approach, affirming that under Vermont’s Public Records Act public agencies may not charge for requests to inspect public records. The Court’s decision reinforced the principle that government transparency and accountability are vital to a democratic society.
In response, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan imposed a new rule barring members of the public from photographing records they are inspecting and called on legislators to further restrict the public’s right to know.
Jay Diaz, staff attorney with the ACLU of Vermont:
“This video is yet another example of law enforcement overreacting to Black and brown children engaging in common childhood behavior. When police officers respond by escalating a situation and issuing arrests ‘to send a message,’ they promote a culture of ‘command and control,’ often rooted in false stereotypes and bias, that results in Black and brown people being disproportionately justice-involved. When children see police officers in their neighborhood, they should be able to rely on those officers to support and protect them, not criminalize them. Burlington has taken some positive steps to prevent incidents like this from happening, but we hope to see more substantive training of Vermont police to eliminate biased outcomes and better ensure de-escalation is the rule and not the exception.
This is also a clear example of why government transparency is so important, particularly when police body cameras are involved. The ACLU will continue working to preserve Vermonters’ access to public records to inform public debate and hold their government accountable.”
James Lyall, executive director of the ACLU of Vermont:
“This is what systemic racism looks like, and it demonstrates why the Attorney General’s opposition to the Doyle ruling is indefensible and contrary to the public interest—records like these should not remain concealed behind a paywall. The Doyle decision sends an important message that democracy requires transparency and that police body cameras will be used to hold police officers accountable for their actions. It is disappointing to see efforts already underway to undermine that progress. We hope in time, more Vermont officials will recognize the value in transparency and accountability and that injustices like these will not be swept under the rug.”