Judge issues ruling saying the Rankin County Sheriff’s Dept. violated Public Records Act

Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 10:09 AM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A Rankin County Judge has issued a ruling saying the sheriff’s department violated the Public Records Act.

This comes after Insider Inc., a New York based media company requested incident reports from the department.

In a five-page ruling, Rankin County Chancery Judge Troy Odom stated that the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department “failed to timely produce to Insider incident reports-even incident reports redacted of arguable investigatory materials.”

According to the ruling, the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department tried saying the incident reports being requested were considered investigation reports, and as a result, they could not release them.

In his ruling, Odom stated otherwise, saying “documents that are incident reports do not turn into investigatory reports simply by being submitted to a third-party investigatory agency.”

By law, the sheriff’s department was supposed to release the requested incident reports to Insider Inc, since they’re public.

In conclusion, the ruling states, “the Court finds that the department made a reasonable-though ineffective-argument for withholding the documents.”

”Insider has received these, they just received them 200 days after they requested them with the Public Records Act requiring that they be provided within seven days,” said Blake Feldman, an impact policy counsel with the Mississippi Center for Justice.

The Mississippi Center for Justice filed the lawsuit on behalf of Insider Inc.

Feldman said the Ney York based media company was trying to get incidents on cases where someone was shot and killed by a Rankin County Sheriff’s Deputy or died while in custody of the department.

The reports requested included:

Feldman said Feldman says the reports were requested by Insider Incorporated in 2022. However, the media company didn’t get the final report until last month, almost one year after filing the public records request with the department.

”It is a win for the public in Mississippi,” said Feldman. “Public records belong to every Mississippian. There’s a trend of law enforcement agencies violating the law that says they belong to us, these records, and withholding them.”

Following this ruling, Feldman said he’s remaining hopeful that trend will change.”

It’s also hard for a law enforcement agency to enforce the law when they’re clearly violating the law,” said Feldman. “It’s just a win moving forward, and we do hope law enforcement agencies will take more seriously their duty to adhere to the Public Records Act.”

We reached out to the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department for a comment on the judge’s ruling, we are still waiting to hear back.

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