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For years, the Asheville Police Department has been shooting and storing videos of local public events, many of which have been political in nature. Now, what those videos hold has become the subject of the latest public-records lawsuit against the city of Asheville.

In a complaint filed Monday in Buncombe County Superior Court, the Asheville Citizen-Times asserted that the APD and the city have unlawfully shielded the videos, which recorded everything from gun-rights and topless rallies to Occupy Asheville and KKK gatherings, including some dating back to 1980.

City and police officials have rebuffed public-records requests on the matter, asserting, on the one hand, that the videos are “criminal intelligence” records, which can be shielded from the public under state law, and on the other, that the videos constitute “training” materials for how to respond to large gatherings, a type of record that doesn’t appear to have a secrecy exemption.

In the complaint, which includes previously released records from the city about the matter and can be read below, the Citizen-Times’ attorney asserts in part that “the retention of such video recordings and the failure to disclose the same will or could result in a ‘chilling effect’ on the First Amendment rights of the public to demonstrate, to gather or to present political protests as guaranteed under the United States Constitution.”

Last year, Asheville City Council unanimously voted for a resolution mandating that “city of Asheville employees do not and shall not collect, maintain or disseminate information of any individual, association, organization, corporation, business or partnership based solely on political, religious or social views, associations or activities, unless said information is directly related to an investigation of criminal conduct.”

View the newspaper’s complaint below, which was provided to Carolina Public Press by the Asheville Citizen-Times. It is unknown whether or when the case could go to court.

Asheville Citizen-Times Public Records Lawsuit for Police Surveillance Videos (PDF)
Asheville Citizen-Times Public Records Lawsuit for Police Surveillance Videos (Text)

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the lead contributing open government reporter at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

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