MINOT, N.D. -- Earlier this month North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem ruled that the City of Fargo had illegally redacted portions of a June email sent by Fargo Police Chief David Todd.
I had obtained the redacted copy of the email by way of an open records request and challenged the redactions with a complaint to Stenehjem's office. The city had justified the redactions with statutes intended to protect criminal investigations and details about security preparations, but in reality, they were covering up embarrassing things Todd wrote about the Black Lives Matter movement.
In the wake of Stenehjem's opinion, I asked the Fargo Police Department to reconsider redactions they made to an email disgraced former deputy chief Todd Osmundson had written apologizing for his activities at Black Lives Matter protests in early June.
Osmundson has admitted to infiltrating the protests in plain clothes while drinking alcohol and joining in with profanity-laced chants against his own department's officers. I obtained his email after I was tipped off to its existence by Fargo PD personnel but it, like Todd's email, was heavily redacted.
The Fargo PD has now provided me with an unredacted copy, which you can read below. "After reviewing the Attorney General’s recent opinion with the City Attorney, there are no redactions to this document," Fargo Police Sgt. Tom Shaw told me.
Also included, for comparison, is the redacted copy I was originally provided.
The removal of the redactions did not uncover anything particularly salacious or newsworthy, in my opinion, but your mileage may vary.
What's problematic, and worthy of note, is that the redactions were made at all. That they've since been removed is a tacit admission that they were done illegally in the first place.
I have been writing about these emails for going on two months now, and some of you readers have begun to accuse me of beating a dead horse.
I understand why it may seem that way, but these things matter.
This weekend the Fargo-area Black Lives Matter movement held another protest, and it was at least partly inspired by what was revealed in the unredacted copy of Chief Todd's email which I published.
"We were told that they had apologized, that there was nothing else to apologize for," Jamaal Abegaz, a member of Fargo-Moorhead Black Lives Matter, told reporter Tanner Robinson at the march. "Then the unredacted email came out."
The City of Fargo has tried to portray themselves as being open and honest, both generally and specifically in their dealings with the Black Lives Matter movement. What their handling of open records requests has revealed is that this isn't true.
They're not ready to be accountable for law enforcement malfeasance. They're still trying to hide it.
They're still trying to frustrate efforts to uncover it.
You, the public, deserve to know that.
This isn't about whether or not you agree with the Black Lives Matter movement.
This is about our government being open and transparent and accountable.
The City of Fargo clearly has a lot of work to do on this front.
By the way, open records laws can be used by anyone in the public. You don't have to be a reporter or a lawyer or anything like that, and there are really only two things you need to remember when you're using them.
The first is that all records in our state are presumed to be open to the public unless specifically exempted by law. If a government entity is denying your request, or redacting the documents they're turning over, they must cite the law which allows them to do so.
Second, if you feel a records request was incorrectly denied, or that redactions were not applied appropriately, you can ask the attorney general's office to review the matter and render an opinion. Again, anyone can do this, and it's as easy as sending them an email.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.