Federal and State law make records available – sheriff above law

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution specifically provides that no law can be created abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.

Title 42 US Code, Chapter 21 Sub-chapter I § 1983 penalizes every person who deprives any citizen of the United States of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution; holding them liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

The St Johns County Sheriff’s Office has two full-time employees responsible for providing public information to the press. Commander Chuck Mulligan ($85,160.82 annually plus benefits) and civilian Media Relations Officer Kevin Kelshaw ($59,473.65 annually plus benefits) are paid from public funds. As part of the sheriff’s $70-plus million-dollar budget, he maintains scanned images of daily incident reports written by members of his department and the St Augustine Beach Police Department. They are accessible over the Internet. Under color of custom, the sheriff regulates usage of that public information; granting access to some members of the press, while arbitrarily depriving access to others.

In retribution for unflattering reporting, the sheriff has deprived competitive, timely self-service access to that public information to Historic City News. The discriminatory practice violates the fundamental liberty of a free press guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Section 119.01(1)(a) F.S. requires public agencies to allow access to public records, like police incident reports, at “any reasonable time” and under “reasonable conditions”. Since Florida’s public records law requires an agency to provide public records in “any form or format” maintained by the agency, that would include Internet access.

An intentional denial of public records access constitutes a first-degree misdemeanor; carrying with it the possibility of a $1,000 fine and a possible jail term not exceeding one year.

Do you believe an elected official has the right to deprive access to non-confidential public records in their custody?

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