Division I: Blanket Claim of Investigation File on 700 Pages Sufficient for Statute of Limitation to Begin (per Division I...we'll see)
With a title like that, it looks like this is a case about a disgruntled almost police officer. Let’s check in on the facts, shall we?
I was off! I mean, it has to do with a law enforcement officer, but it really has to do with a Public Records Act Request. Here, Klinkert requested a deputy’s file after the deputy had been terminated for using excessive force on a juvenile detainee. The Commission withheld the investigative file on the deputy that they had turned over to the WSCJTC in investigation of the deputy’s license.
Now, here’s what I don’t get. This seems like an attempt to get around the PRA. There was an earlier PRA case where police departments were trying to get around the PRA by submitting reports to the Washington State Patrol, who turned around and refused to turn them over based on their not having an indexing system that could look them up. The Washington Supreme Court called foul, if memory served.
Now, here, it is true that they want to use it for an investigation. However, there has to be some sort of timeframe on that, right? Otherwise, they could just claim indefinitely they were possibly going to maybe open an investigation. It seems there should be some modicum of proof that the file they were handed wasn’t a closed prior investigation, but was only a portion of a continuing investigation. The burden is on them to show why the records are exempt.
Here, Klinkert did not file suit until July 24, 2013. The first denial by the Commission was on November 18, 2009. Klinkert wrote to them on November 30, 2009. They did not respond. He wrote again on August 3, 2010. They responded on August 5, 2010.
So how did this turn out? Oddly, a statute of limitations issue. The filing party can do so within one year of the denial, but only if the claim of exemption does not provide sufficient identifying information.
Here, I would say there’s a 70/30 shot at the Supreme Court taking the WSCJTC down on this one. While they did say it was documents compiled in an investigation. They also generally help onto over 700 pages and just said it was an investigation file. The court attempts to differentiate a 2005 case where pretty much the same thing happened, claiming that here, it is different because the statute used was actually cited. But citing the whole file doesn’t give you enough information to challenge specific records.
Why does this matter? Because the claim can still be filed if the statute of limitations hasn’t expired. However, if the identification was sufficient, as Division I claims, then the claim ran at the lasted in August 2011, prior to Klinkert’s filing.
We’ll see where this one goes!
Issaquah Legal Services Attorneys are skilled in using the Public Records Act to move you case forward and can help you in parsing through the complexities of the PRA if you need to respond to a request.