The Iowa Freedom of Information Council believes that law enforcement agencies in Iowa are undermining public respect and confidence in the agencies by prohibiting people from obtaining police video of encounters with the public. This Des Moines Register article involves one such case.
By Jason Clayworth
Des Moines Register
A Des Moines man has filed a lawsuit alleging that Windsor Heights is relying on a controversial interpretation of Iowa’s public records law to block him from obtaining police video he says would show his vehicle was illegally stopped and searched.
Frank Meeink was cited and later pleaded guilty to operating a non-registered vehicle as a result of the June 19 stop for expired license plates. He was fined $50.
Windsor Heights Police Officer Andrew Nissen claimed that after the stop that he smelled marijuana. Despite Meeink’s objections, Nissen searched his vehicle, said Robert Rehkemper, a West Des Moines lawyer who represents Meeink.
No drugs were found. No charges beyond the traffic citation were filed.
Meeink subsequently requested records, including police video, in an attempt to review whether civil rights violations resulted from the search.
Windsor Heights has refused to release the records, saying they are part of a police investigation. It is a controversial and relatively recent interpretation of Iowa law that says placement of a comma in the Iowa law means the records can be withheld from the public indefinitely.
Rehkemper says the city has violated the state’s open records law in its refusal to release the records. He has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Meeink asking Iowa courts to force the city to produce the records, issue an injunction prohibiting the city from such future action and to pay $500 in damages.
Windsor Heights Interim Chief Derek Meyer declined to talk about the records denial, citing ongoing litigation. He further declined to specify whether his department now considers all law enforcement video as closed to the public.
Rehkemper says the city’s actions breeds public distrust of law enforcement. The incident occurred on a public street and involves only Meeink, circumstances he believes should eliminate privacy concerns sometimes associated with police video.
“The fact that they are persistently refusing to provide us a recording of a traffic stop that doesn’ even involve any type of indictable misdemeanor I can’t understand other than they don’t want to release objective evidence that they violated my client’s constitutional rights,” Rehkemper said