A district court judge should grant a separate trial to weigh public records requests for the internal affairs records of interim Monroe Police Chief Reginald “Reggie” Brown instead of lumping the records requests together with one sought by one of Mayor Jamie Mayo’s former campaign staffers.
That was the thrust of a motion filed in March at Fourth Judicial District Court by attorneys representing The Ouachita Citizen as well as Monroe businessmen Nicholas “Nick” Farrar Sr. and Eddie Hakim.
The city of Monroe sued The Ouachita Citizen, Farrar and Hakim in early February after each party submitted a public records request for Brown’s IA records. Mayo appointed Brown to serve as interim police chief on Feb. 1, though it is widely known Brown has long been Mayo’s top pick to lead the department, permanently.
“This case is unique both in its posture and the nearly unprecedented nature of a public entity suing a citizen simply for making a public records request,” stated the March 2 memorandum filed by The Ouachita Citizen’s attorneys.
Attorneys Scott Sternberg and David LaCerte with the New Orleans law firm Sternberg, Naccari & White are representing The Ouachita Citizen and Farrar. Monroe attorney Joe Guerriero is representing Hakim. Guerriero, LaCerte and Sternberg co-signed the March 2 memorandum.
The Ouachita Citizen’s attorneys also alerted the court of the defendants’ plans to “vigorously contest” the city’s lawsuit by filing a counter lawsuit and request for sanctions to deter Monroe and other governmental entities from suing citizens for requesting public records.
The city filed a petition for declaratory judgment, asking the court to determine whether an officer’s IA files could be released. The city has suggested that IA files are protected from disclosure because they pertain to an employee’s private personnel matters, though courts in Louisiana and across the country have rejected that argument.
“There is furthermore precedent that internal affairs files are public records which should be turned over if the public’s interest in them is great,” stated the memorandum filed by Guerriero, LaCerte and Sternberg.
In light of the COVID-19 outbreak and associated closures, no hearing in the case has been scheduled.
The city’s petition in February named The Ouachita Citizen, Farrar and Hakim as well as a fourth defendant, Gwendolyn Dickson, of Monroe. Unlike the public records request filed by The Citizen, Dickson filed an even broader request, seeking the IA files of 45 current and former Monroe police officers — including Brown.
Attorneys for The Ouachita Citizen, Farrar and Hakim filed the memorandum in support of a motion to sever because the public records request filed by Dickson was substantially different from their requests. In the past, the city has disclosed Brown’s IA files in response to public records requests without objection, including a public records request from The Ouachita Citizen about an IA investigation of Brown for payroll fraud.
“Movants submit that their issue is narrow: should the City have to turn over the internal affairs records of its interim police chief,” stated the memorandum filed by Guerriero, LaCerte and Sternberg.
“The answer to this question, Movants believe, is resoundingly yes.”
As previously reported by The Ouachita Citizen, state campaign finance records show Dickson has worked on Mayo’s mayoral campaigns in the past. She also has publicly shown her support for Mayo’s current re-election campaign. Mayo is expected to face four challengers in the June 20 primary election.
“Defendant Dickson’s request complicates the matter,” stated the memorandum filed by Guerriero, LaCerte and Sternberg. “While Movants further assert that this action never should have been filed against any Defendant, the interests of justice and the swift administration of the Public Records Law should lead this Court to sever the claims of City of Monroe against the Movants from that of Mrs. Dickson.”
Dickson’s public records request drew opposition from current and past members of the police department’s local union. Many of the officers named in Dickson’s lawsuit recently filed a petition to intervene in the lawsuit. Alexandria attorneys Mark Vilar and Aaron Green are representing the intervening officers.
“The Dickson request will undoubtedly involve a case-by-case review of internal affairs documents and will undoubtedly have intervenors and competing privacy interests which will not be at issue in the Movants’ case,” stated the memorandum filed by Guerriero, LaCerte and Sternberg.
The officers’ March 13 petition for intervention claimed state law protected any confidential information concerning the investigation of a law enforcement officer.
“Interveners have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the documents requested, which are confidential and not subject to disclosure,” stated the officers’ petition for intervention.
The officers asking for leave to intervene in the case included Randall Adams, Timothy Antley, Tobyn Berry, Vincent Brown, Michael Calloway, James Clark, James Crouch, Jared DeSadier, Eugene Ellis, Michael Fendall, Christopher Florey, Jeffery Gilbert, Brant Heath, Craig Honeycutt, Roderick Jackson, Charles Johnson, Douglas Lambert, Emmett Mapps, James Marlow, Sean Reddick, Jeremy Sturdivant, James Thigpen, Mickey Tucker and Christopher Turner.