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Little Rock set to move ahead with disclosure after attorney general weighs in on releasing records tied to police chief

by Joseph Flaherty | January 22, 2022 at 3:33 a.m.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge gives a press conference in this Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020 file photo.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Friday responded to a request for an opinion from Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter regarding Arkansas Freedom of Information Act requests submitted in the aftermath of a New Year's Eve shooting involving the Little Rock police chief.

In a letter, Rutledge said that while she lacked enough information to say whether some records were releasable, a prosecutor's concerns about releasing records "are beyond your consideration as custodian," or her authority to review, with respect to items not covered by certain FOIA exemptions.

She later said that given the "limited scope" of her review, she was unable to conclusively say whether the city was correct to classify some records as exempt by deeming them part of an ongoing criminal investigation, and therefore not subject to disclosure.

However, Rutledge noted that "the mere fact that records relate somehow to an ongoing criminal information [sic] will not, alone, support withholding nonexempt public records."

Carpenter provided Rutledge's response in an email Friday evening to city officials that was copied to several members of the media.

Based on her response, Carpenter suggested the city "should compile the various public records that have been requested pursuant to the AFOIA."

"After initial redaction of materials that are not subject to disclosure, I believe it prudent to notify the Prosecuting Attorney and Arkansas State Police what the City intends to disclose, including a redacted copy of the documents in question, and move forward with disclosure," Carpenter added. "If the Prosecutor or the Arkansas State Police wish to seek injunctive relief in state court, then a court of competent jurisdiction will make a determination that, as noted above, is not for the City to make."

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and others have requested various records in the aftermath of the Dec. 31 shooting involving Police Chief Keith Humphrey.

During the incident, authorities say Humphrey fired his gun at an armed suspect outside an Asher Avenue convenience store.

The suspect was apparently uninjured when Humphrey fired. She was later arrested and charged with first-degree battery after wounding another individual during the incident.

Humphrey spent a brief period on administrative leave before returning to duty Jan. 13. His actions that night are the subject of two investigations: one by Arkansas State Police concerning his use of force and a separate, internal investigation by Little Rock police officials.

The Pulaski County prosecuting attorney's office will make the final determination whether Humphrey's use of force violated the law.

When the city declined to release some records pertaining to Humphrey and the incident, Carpenter said the city was seeking to honor the request of the criminal investigators. The prosecuting attorney's office had asked that no information be released, he said.

Carpenter had requested the legal opinion from Rutledge's office on Jan. 14.

Print Headline: AG weighs in on releasing records

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