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Federal Judge Rejects BOP’s Attempts to Keep Videos of Force-Feeding Prisoners at ADX Secret

by Dale Chappell  

A federal judge has rejected attempts by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to keep videos of staff force-feeding a prisoner on a hunger strike at the Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colorado, after the BOP had claimed a “law enforcement” exception under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York by Aviva Stahl, an investigative reporter, who made a FOIA request to the BOP for videos of staff force-feeding Mohammad Salameh, convicted of charges related to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and held at the ADX in 2015. He had been on a hunger strike that lasted 34 days and involved use of force to “extract” him from his cell, forced IV fluids, and forced feeding through a tube in his nose.

The BOP, in response, filed a motion for summary judgment, asking court to “ignore” Stahl’s request for the videos as “misguided” and “naive.” The BOP argued that the court shouldn’t “take the word of a convicted terrorist over the statements of BOP personnel with relevant expertise and knowledge,” and attached affidavits from BOP staff that the contents of the videos were sensitive to law enforcement needs.

But the court disagreed, noting that “convicted criminals are no stranger to FOIA litigation,” and rejected the BOP’s affidavits as “wholly conclusory.” The court also reminded the BOP that, at the summary judgment stage, the court had to view the evidence in a light most favorable to Stahl, and not the BOP.

Specifically, the BOP had refused to provide Stahl with the videos based on an exemption dealing with records “compiled for law enforcement purposes.” The court addressed the three “harms” the BOP cited for the exception and agreed that there were law enforcement and privacy concerns, but said “the fact that segments of the videos fall within an exception does not mean that the entirety does so as well.” Video has “become commonplace,” Judge Brian Cogan said, and that video editing by law enforcement is “routine and inexpensive” these days.

The court denied the BOP’s request for summary judgment in their favor and ordered the parties to craft a solution within a reasonable time, with the videos edited by the BOP to exclude staff identities and law enforcement-sensitive information. See: Stahl v. DOJ, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58871 (E.D.N.Y.). 

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Related legal case

Stahl v. DOJ