The American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont is going to the state's top court in hopes of obtaining Burlington police body camera footage of an alleged use of force against children.
Burlington resident Reed Doyle says he saw officers threaten to pepper-spray a group of children in Roosevelt Park in June 2017. Doyle said that as one of the youths walked backward with his hands up, an officer pushed him forcefully with both arms. The boy, who appeared to be 11 to 13 years old, protested and was arrested, Doyle claims.
Doyle submitted a written complaint to the police department and police commission. Frustrated by what he said was a lack of followup, he filed a public records request for body camera footage.
Police denied his request. The ACLU appealed on his behalf. Police then said that Doyle had a right to view the footage, but only after it had been heavily redacted, for which they would charge Doyle several hundred dollars in advance. Doyle appealed in civil court.
"Mr. Doyle wants to inspect the police bodycam video because he believes law enforcement used unreasonable force against children and was not held accountable," ACLU attorney Jay Diaz said. "Charging him to do so violates Vermont’s public records laws and undermines the purported justification for using bodycams — as a tool for police accountability.”
Vermont's Public Records Act allows government agencies to charge for copies of records, but not for people to merely view them, the ACLU contends. In August, Washington Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout ruled against Doyle, saying there is no "overarching distinction" between seeking copies or inspection of records. The ACLU is appealing that ruling to the state Supreme Court, saying that charging to inspect records puts them behind a "paywall."
Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo previously said his department was seeking to redact images of people captured in the footage to protect their privacy, as allowed under state law.
"Affordable technology will hopefully develop that will lessen the time needed to properly prepare body camera footage for release," del Pozo said in February. "Until then, we will continue to abide by Vermont law in charging the preparation fees necessary to protect taxpayer interests in fulfilling labor-intensive requests for public information."