The Vermont Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in the case of Burlington man who was denied access to police body-cam footage of a 2017 incident.
Reed Doyle said he witnessed officers threatening to pepper spray a group of children in Roosevelt Park, and he claims he saw an officer push a teenage boy who had his hands up.
Doyle filed a public records request for officers’ video, but was told it would be heavily redacted and cost him hundreds of dollars..
The ACLU of Vermont took up Doyle’s case, and on Wednesday the group’s lawyer argued that the state’s public record law only allows state agencies to charge fees if someone wants to copy a record. Doyle said he only wants to watch the video.
“Free inspection of public information has been vital to Vermont’s democracy,” said ACLU attorney Jay Diaz. “We are wary of what the government will do if it can hide certain records that might be embarrassing to it with exorbitant fees.”
The city’s lawyer, Justin Spencer St. James, said videos that show minors must be redacted to protect their privacy. St. James argued that this takes extra time and effort, work that staff should be compensated for.
“The moment that redaction is applied to original public records, those records cease to be an original and must be treated as a copy,” St. James said.
Doyle’s case has the support of the Vermont Press Association and Secretary of State Jim Condos, who said it was about a citizen’s right to know.
“It’s really about the public’s access to its government and to know what its government is doing.”