Judge orders Kodiak to comply with public records request

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A Superior Court judge this week sided with Kodiak Public Broadcasting Corporation and ordered the City of Kodiak to immediately comply with the state’s public records act in a case of alleged excessive use of force by three Kodiak police officers. The order was handed down by Kodiak Judge Steve W. Cole.

KMXT public radio’s parent corporation sued when the city denied the station’s Freedom of Information Act request for details after an incident where three policemen handcuffed and pepper-sprayed 28-year-old Nick Pletnikoff, who is severely autistic, as he was checking his family’s mailbox on September 16th.

Pletnikoff was not charged with any crime, but was left bloodied, bruised, and according to his mother Judy, traumatized by his encounter with the KPD officers. KMXT sought more information about the incident, including the identities of the three officers, as public outrage grew and the police blotter referred to the call only as “suspicious circumstances; all okay.”

In his order, Judge Cole flatly rejected the argument that a third-party investigation underway is an “enforcement action,” and therefore exempts the city from complying with the Alaska Public Records Act.

Judge Cole likewise rejected the city’s assertion that it did not want to invade the privacy of those involved in the incident. Cole points out that Pletnikoff’s name is well known to the public and is a part of the public record, and any witnesses interviewed did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy since they likely consented to the interviews. Cole didn’t address whether the police officer’s identities should be private, but said if the city had alleged that, it would not be a well-founded claim.

In summary, the Cole said, in part, “(T)he city has not met its burden to show the disclosure request should be denied….”

Judge Cole has ordered the City of Kodiak to release to KMXT, immediately – but no later than December 31st, the chest-cam videos recorded by the three KPD officers during their response to the Pletnikoff incident.

Assistant Kodiak City Manager Mike Tvenge  said the city fully intends to comply with the court order.

Jay Barrett is the news director at KMXT in Kodiak.

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