15 Mar Insider, Inc., Represented by the Mississippi Center for Justice, Wins Lawsuit Against Rankin County Sheriff’s Department For Failure to Disclose Incident Reports
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MARCH 15, 2023
CONTACT: Nik Sibley, firstname.lastname@example.org
Insider, Inc., Represented by the Mississippi Center for Justice, Wins Lawsuit Against Rankin County Sheriff’s Department For Failure to Disclose Incident Reports
Jackson, Miss. – In a lawsuit brought by Insider, Inc., a media company represented by the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ), a Rankin County Chancery Court has ruled that the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department violated the Mississippi Public Records Act when it refused to hand over incident reports regarding the deaths of three men who were killed by the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department or who died while in custody. Read the original full complaint here. Read the Court’s final judgment here, which incorporates the Court’s bench ruling. Read the bench ruling (pages 38-48 of the court transcript) here.
Among other findings, the Court determined that the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department wrongly withheld the requested incident reports by incorrectly claiming they were “investigatory reports.” That designation, according to the Court, was not justified under the state’s public records law.
In its bench ruling, the Court explains that the unlawfully withheld incident reports provided a narrative description written by law enforcement officers about an incident that they observed. The Court explained, “The public has an absolute right to know the who, what, when, and where,” regarding law enforcement-observed incidents, and that the reports sought were “clearly subject to production” under the Mississippi Public Records Act.
The Court stated: “Openness, honesty, and transparency is a necessary feature of a healthy government,” and that if law enforcement shields incident report information “from the public, all the while repeating, ‘Trust us. We’re from the government,’ . . . that should startle all Americans.”
“As the Court recognized in this case, public access to public records—particularly law enforcement incident reports—is the law of the land,” said Vangela M. Wade, President and CEO of MCJ. “In Mississippi, we value a functioning democracy above any tradeoffs of obfuscation.”
“This ruling cements that law enforcement agencies are subject to our state’s public records act—the same as any other state agency,” said Paloma Wu, Deputy Director of Impact Litigation at MCJ, and lead MCJ lawyer on this case. “We are thrilled that the Court emphasized the duty that public entities have to timely comply with the public’s requests for public records.”
The Mississippi Center for Justice is dedicated to dismantling the state’s culture of inequity and injustice. Supported and staffed by attorneys and other professionals, the Center develops and pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide.