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Kitsap County, Washington Jail Settles Public Records Act Suit for $125,000

Kitsap County, Washington Jail Settles Public Records Act Suit for $125,000

On May 16, 2008, the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office agreed to pay $125,000 to a former prisoner for violations of Washington’s Public Records Act.

In September 2006, Jeffery McKee, then a prisoner at the Kitsap County Corrections Center, submitted a Public Records Act request to Kitsap County for a copy of a video taken of McKee while in a “crisis cell” at the jail. McKee sought the video in order to prove that he was mistreated.

After Kitsap County failed to produce the video, McKee sought assistance from Greg Overstreet, then the Open Government Ombudsman with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. Overstreet contacted Kitsap County about McKee’s request, but failed to receive a response. Overstreet advised McKee that he could seek relief in superior court.

In October 2007, McKee, with the assistance of Hank Balson, an attorney with the Seattle-based Public Interest Law Group, filed suit against the county.

Initially, the county responded to the suit, arguing that the video had been taped over. However, after further investigation, it was determined that the crisis cell video – which would have shown McKee being mistreated – had existed when McKee filed his Public Records Act request. The video was later destroyed in accordance with the jail’s retention policies before it could be disclosed.

“The staff member did not check to ascertain whether or not the video segment documenting a particular area of the jail in question had actually been taped over,” Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer said. “As such, we were technically not in compliance.”

Balson, McKee’s attorney, was surprised by the county’s admission. “I’ve never had a case where a public entity admitted that, ‘Yes, there were records they should’ve disclosed,’ but didn’t,” Balson said.

The county agreed to settle the suit for $125,000. See: McKee v. Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office, No. 07-2-12755-6 (Pierce County Superior Court). The settlement and complaint in the case are posted on PLN’s website.

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Related legal case

McKee v. Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office