An initial review of 6,000 Mobile Police Department documents concerning its Police Explorers program has yielded information requested since the beginning of the year that the department has previously claimed it did not have, as well as a 2011 internal analysis of the program that found it to be “in complete disarray.”
Also found were internal emails between MPD and city officials discussing the suspicion that some city employees, their children and spouses were improperly attending the federally funded trips.
The records in question came from boxes gathered by MPD and city attorneys in response to a lawsuit filed by Lagniappe in May after Chief Micheal Williams’ refused to release public records related to the Explorers trips from 2008-2011. Williams initially denied the newspaper most of the records — particularly those relating to who attended the trips — until after the suit was filed. Even then, the records released were incomplete to the point the department claimed to have zero records showing the names of any of 43 people who flew to Denver in 2008.
When the case went to court, Williams presented an affidavit saying the department had given Lagniappe all the records pertinent to the suit. Lagniappe was seeking to verify or disprove claims the trips were improperly attended.
That initial legal filing specifically requested documents related to the 2008 trip to a national Explorers convention in which 43 individuals flew to Denver, as well as a 2011 trip that saw 42 attendees travel by bus to New York City and Washington, DC. While MPD has provided names of those who attended the New York/DC trip, it has never produced any of the names of those who flew to Colorado. When Lagniappe tried to subpoena the records for that trip from the travel agency that booked it, city attorneys successfully blocked the subpoenas in Circuit Court Judge Rick Stout’s courtroom when the judge agreed with their argument that third parties may not be subpoenaed in an open records suit.
In May, Williams issued an affidavit to the court stating: “After having conducted a thorough search of all known records, no other records have been identified which are responsive to the plaintiff’s request for records or compliant and none remain to be produced. I also have no reason to believe that any responsive documents have been lost or destroyed.”
In August, city attorneys assembled the 6,000 records pertaining to the Explorers program since 2008, and also separately provided Lagniappe with roughly 50 pages of documents they told the court were the only ones responsive to the paper’s initial complaint. City attorneys have claimed in writing, as well as told Stout in court Sept. 13, that none of the 6,000 documents in boxes at MPD headquarters were directly responsive to Lagniappe’s complaint.
However, one of the first documents retrieved upon a partial viewing of about 300 pages of records from those boxes was an April 10, 2008 MPD memo listing the 43 individuals who were to attend the July trip. The existence of the list in MPD files would appear to undermine Williams’ affidavit before the court. A subsequent affidavit also made the same claims, again without providing that list to the newspaper.