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February 21, 2018

Public records lawsuit seeks footage of incident involving officers’ use of force, threats against minors

BURLINGTON—The ACLU of Vermont has initiated a public records lawsuit against the Burlington Police Department for failure to produce bodycam footage of an alleged use of force incident. The case was filed on behalf of Reed Doyle, a Burlington resident who witnessed a confrontation between Burlington police officers and a group of children.

Jay Diaz, staff attorney with the ACLU of Vermont: "Mr. Doyle wants to review footage of an incident he witnessed that he believes shows excessive and inappropriate use of force by police against children—clearly something the public has a right to know about. The Department’s failure to appropriately respond to Mr. Doyle’s request violates the Public Records Act and compromises the public’s ability to hold officers accountable for their conduct.”

In June of 2017, Mr. Doyle was walking his dog when he noticed police officers engaged in heated discussion with a group of children in Roosevelt Park. One of the children had been arrested. According to Mr. Doyle’s account, an officer threatened to pepper spray the group if they did not retreat. As one of the children walked backwards with his hands up, an officer pushed him forcefully with both arms. The boy, believed to be between 11 and 13 years of age, protested the use of force. The officers huddled for discussion, and then arrested the boy.

Mr. Doyle submitted a written complaint to the Department and Police Commission about the incident but was never informed of any follow-up. To review the incident himself, he requested to inspect available records from the incident, including bodycam footage, but the Burlington Police Department repeatedly denied him access to those records.

Mr. Doyle contacted the ACLU, which filed an appeal on his behalf. The Department conceded that Mr. Doyle had the right to inspect the footage, but only after it had been heavily redacted, for which the Department would charge Mr. Doyle several hundred dollars, including $220.50 in advance to begin work.

ACLU cooperating attorney Anthony Iarrapino: "The Burlington Police Department violated the Public Records Act multiple times: first by denying Mr. Doyle’s valid request, then by claiming the need to make unwarranted redactions to the public records, and finally by denying access to the records until Mr. Doyle agrees to pay hundreds of dollars for those needless redactions. The law does not permit the police to place financial roadblocks in the path of citizens exercising their right to know.”

The full complaint can be accessed here:

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