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Port: AG says City of Fargo violated open records law in Osmundson controversy

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Todd Osmundson, a former deputy chief with the Fargo Police Department, talks June 7 about why he changed out of his uniform and into civilian clothes during the Fargo Marches for George Floyd protest and ensuing riot on May 30. Forum file photo
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MINOT, N.D. — On June 4, as a part of my efforts to uncover the misdeeds of former Fargo Police Department deputy chief Todd Osmundson, I sent an open records request to the City of Fargo requesting an email sent by Police Chief David Todd responding to the situation.

I obtained the email, and reported on it , though only with heavy redactions the city justified by citing exemptions to open records laws for criminal intelligence and security planning.

I filed a complaint about these redactions with Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem's office, as any citizen is allowed to do when dealing with open records or open meetings law.

This morning, Stenehjem issued an opinion finding the City of Fargo violated open records law.

"While the position of the Department at the time of this records request is understandable, the contents of the email do not fit within any of the exceptions to the open records law," the opinion states. "No actual security plans or threat assessments were included or detailed in the email. Merely stating that the department has criminal intelligence information is not, in and of itself, criminal intelligence information."

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Stenehjem's opinion orders the city to provide me with an unredacted copy of Todd's email.

This opinion comes even as the city has repeatedly touted its efforts to be transparent with the public about law enforcement issues, generally, and the Osmundson situation specifically.

This opinion illustrates the importance of challenging law enforcement efforts to conceal public information. I can't speak for other parts of the world, but here in North Dakota the cops frequently use the aforementioned exemptions for criminal intelligence and security as blanket reasons to deny public records requests.

And they are, quite frequently, wrong.

Here's the full opinion. You can read the inappropriately redacted email the City of Fargo provided me in this June 5 column.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

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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 rport@forumcomm.com .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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