On Tuesday, the Washington DC Supreme Court heard arguments in a nine-month legal battle over whether to release footage of six Seattle police officers who participated in a Trump supporters rally ahead of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
During the oral argument via videoconference, Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen S. Gonzalez and other justices tried to find out if the state’s highest court really needed to weigh the issue or should it just send the case back to first instance based on the new evidence. facts that became known after the March decree.
“Given the passage of time and further developments, what is left for us to decide at this stage?” Gonzalez asked as he opened Tuesday’s hearing.
The lawsuit was launched in February by six officers who were internally investigated for their participation in the so-called Stop Theft Rally in Washington, DC on January 6.
After Seattle law student Sam Suoka and three others separately requested the officers’ records while the investigation was still ongoing, the city voluntarily notified the officers that it was ready to publish some of the records unless they received a court order to close the investigation. The officers sued in an attempt to block this disclosure.
In March, a King County Supreme Court judge denied officers’ arguments that privacy rights prohibit the release of documents, establishing that they were present at a public rally and the tapes should be disclosed.
Since then, the circumstances of the case have changed significantly as the case has reached the Supreme Court.
In accordance with a March order that was overturned during the officers’ appeal, the city’s Police Accountability Office completed and released the results of a detailed six-month investigation. He found that two of the officers, who have since been fired and identified in the press, had trespassed in restricted area outside the Capitol during an “active uprising.”
The investigation found that three of the four other police officers were released from charges of unprofessional behavior and did not violate any laws. There was no evidence that the fourth officer violated any rules or laws.
On Tuesday, lawyers representing the four convicted officers did not dispute that the Supreme Court should return the case to the trial court. But they argued that the court should instruct the court to review confidentiality issues, which it ruled not to apply when rejecting the preliminary injunction in March.
Blair Russ and Arik Bomshtyk, officers’ attorneys funded by the Seattle Police Guild, argued that officers have the constitutional right to remain anonymous even when they attend a public political rally.
If records are released revealing the identities of the officers, “intimate details of their lives could be widely disseminated, subjecting them to hatred and ridicule,” Russ said.
Seattle Assistant Attorney Caroline Boyes, who said the City is avoiding taking a position on legal arguments in the case, noted that “if the full amount of the requested injunction is provided to the appellant, it will lead to a dramatic change in the way requests are evaluated. to public records for exceptions. “
Boyce said City officials believe the case should be reopened. But “it would be unacceptable for public record officials to take into account what may be implied, suggested or assumed” when evaluating records that have not yet even been presented as evidence.
Janet Toman, Suok’s lawyer, argued that the officers’ right to express themselves freely when attending a rally is undeniable. But she added, “It’s hard to see how they could think that this is a question that they can completely keep to themselves.”
Toman said the Supreme Court must uphold the trial court’s decision before sending the case back to the lower court to consider the extent of any other corrections that need to be made before the tapes are released.
Neil Fox, who also represents Sueoku, told judges that the Supreme Court could also simply rule on a pending motion to stop officers from using pseudonyms in the case. The petition alleges that the officers failed to show that a “serious and imminent threat” still existed, which would have allowed them to continue to hide their identity in the lawsuit, he said.
Fox argued that the officers, known only as Jane and John Doe in the lawsuits, only vaguely expressed fears that they would be harassed or doxed if their identities were revealed soon after the lawsuit was filed in February. The OPA results have since been released and the names of the two dismissed officers have been made public, however “there has been no evidence of threats or harassment against any of these officers,” Fox said.
“It’s their onus to maintain that kind of shield of anonymity, and we challenged that,” Fox said. “I would advise you to be allowed to change the title of the case and require the use of real names. And that could put an end to the trial. “
The Supreme Court will rule on the matter at a later date, which was not indicated on Tuesday.