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The fight to reveal what kind of surveillance cameras Lexington has and how they are used will return to Fayette circuit court after a judge’s order to release the information was reversed on appeal.
Circuit Court Judge John Reynolds ordered in June of 2018 that the the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government should release all documents related to 29 surveillance cameras used by the Lexington Police Department.
Lexington activist Mike Maharrey first filed an open records request for purchase orders, vendor contracts, training manuals and use policies for the city’s surveillance technology in July 2017. The city released some documents, but denied the request for others saying the state’s Open Records Act exempted documents dealing with public safety.
In September 2017, Attorney General Andy Beshear ordered the city to turn over all of the documents related to the security cameras. The city filed a lawsuit against Maharrey to stop the documents’ release., leading to Reynolds’ decision last year.
While the Circuit Court found that the city did not offer enough concrete evidence to support the claim that releasing the camera information would be potentially harmful to people and investigations, the Court of Appeals believes that that determination was premature. Court of Appeals Judge Pamela Goodwine wrote the opinion and the other two judges evaluating the case concurred.
The city of Lexington and Maharrey requested the circuit judge privately review details of the body-worn, handheld and stationary surveillance technology., the appeals court said.
Such a review would allow the judge to see that revealing information about cameras could be dangerous for confidential informants and make the surveillance technology ineffective in investigations., Lexington police argued.
Releasing the models of cameras used in investigations could help those being investigated avoid surveillance, the city argued.
Before the 2018 judgment, the circuit judge denied the request for a private review of the technology and an evidentiary hearing in the case, saying he found it “hard to believe” that a targeted individual would recognize the make and model of one of the surveillance cameras; remember technical data about the camera; and be able to apply the information to avoid detection, according to the Court of Appeals opinion.
“The judges on the appeals court believe there is certain fact-finding needed before making a final conclusion on whether the documents should be released,” ACLU of Kentucky attorney Heather Gatnarek said in a statement. The group represents Maharrey. “We look forward to continuing to litigate this case. We believe that a court review of the documents, which the Court of Appeals has ordered, will demonstrate that the city’s claims that the information represents a threat to police and public safety are unfounded.
“We hope and anticipate that the court will again move to uphold Kentucky’s strong Open Records Law and allow public access to these important records.”
Maharrey founded “We See You Watching Lexington” after becoming concerned about the installation of city cameras at the Berry Hill skate park.
“This is all about transparency and oversight,” Maharrey said in an ACLU release. “Lexington residents should be able to know what type of surveillance equipment the police department is using and the types of policies they have in place to govern its use. The way I see it, this is the first step toward limiting the unchecked use of surveillance technologies that violate basic privacy rights and feed into a broader national surveillance state.”
Reynolds was filling in for the retired Judge James Ishmael Jr. when he presided over the case. The seat of the Fayette County Circuit Court’s third division has since been filled by Judge Lucy VanMeter.