For Immediate Release:

Richmond Copwatch filed petition in general district court today May 25th, 2011 for mandamus against the Richmond Police Department in regards to the Freedom of Information Act.
Jeremy Hawthorne, a member of the Wingnut Anarchist Collective and Richmond Copwatch made a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) on behalf of Richmond Copwatch originally on January 11th. The request is for the remainder of the protocols and manuals that  RPD has, but which Copwatch did not request with the documents they received in December of 2010. Only individuals, not organizations may make requests under VA FOIA.

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act gives  the public body  five days to respond to the FOIA request. If the public body is unable to respond within that five days they are required to notify the petitioner that they are requsting an extension. The extension may be for a maximum seven days.  The public body may continue to extend the time period, but most notify the petitioner and have a legal reason for the extension.

Due to failure of the RPD to respond within those five business days, we enlisted the aid of an attorney from the ACLU. On February 4, the RPD notified our attorney and Mr. Hawthorne of their request of a seven day extension.

According to VA FOIA, the public body may charge for the requested records. They are also allowed to request a deposit of two hundred dollars if they believe the costs of duplication will exceed that. In this case on the last week of March Jeremy Hawthorne made a deposit of two hundred dollars with the Richmond Police Department. Despite this deposit, they continued  to not respond to his calls or e-mails.

In fact, on April 21 when Mr. Hawthorne went to the Police Station to request the records agian, in person, they told him they had no record of his two hundred dollar deposit.  Fortunately, Mr. Hawthorne had requested and received a receipt for his deposit. He was eventually able to prove to them that he had indeed paid his deposit to their department for these records. The excuse given was that the person who took the money from Mr. Hawthorne was not authorized to do so.

To date, Mr. Hawthorne has not received the requested records or any notification from the Richmond Police Department in 34 days. They do not answer or return his phone calls or emails.

As Richmond Copwatch we believe that the failure of the Richmond Police Department to respond to Mr. Hawthorne’s FOIA request in a timely and legal manner constitutes a knowing and willful violation of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

The Richmond Police Department’s attempt at a suit in January against Mo Karn, also of Richmond Copwatch, on the grounds that they had given the information to a “known and admitted anarchist”, turned into an utter embarassment for the Richmond Police Department. We believe the Richmond Police Department is now refusing to honor FOIA requests made by anarchists or members of Copwatch.
In our opinion this constitutes a violation of VA FOIA and also of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Background:
FOIA law, for reference
http://www.opengovva.org/virginias-foia-the-law

Richmond Copwatch is a non-heirarchical network of groups dedicated to ending police abuse. We believe that monitoring and recording police interactions with community members is a vital first step towards ensuring accountability and protecting ourselves and our communities. We are committed to anti-authoritarian principles and seek to transform the nature of the police and explore alternative methods of community conflict resolution.

Richmond Copwatch’s Goals:
1) Reduce police violence by directly observing the police on the street, documenting incidents and keeping police accountable. We provide support to victims whenever possible. We also seek to educate the public about their rights, police conduct in the community and issues related to the role of police in our society.
2) Empower and unite the community to resist police abuse. We will do this by sharing information with the community, conducting “Know Your Rights” trainings, sponsoring rallies, supporting victims and other community based efforts to deal with the problem.
3) Encourage people to solve problems WITHOUT police intervention. We want to explore alternatives to calling the police.
4) Encourage people to exercise their right to observe the police and to advocate for one another.
5) Provide assistance in the formation of neighborhood cop watch groups in areas where they do not currently exist, and provide networking information for neighborhoods that do already have cop watch groups.
For more information, you can contact Richmond Copwatch by email at sbhcopwatch@gmail.com or by phone at (804) 303-5449.
The Wingnut Anarchist Collective is at 2005 Barton Avenue. You can find out more by calling 303 5449 or emailing wingnut_collective@yahoo.com

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