A local newspaper can have access to videos shot by Wichita Police body cameras in two high-profile incidents, a judge ruled last week.
The ruling came more than three years after The Wichita Eagle requested copies of the videos. Sedgwick County District Judge Jeffrey E. Goering said in his ruling on Wednesday that the city of Wichita “acted in bad faith and without a reasonable basis in law” by withholding the footage.
One of the videos relates to an alleged police cover-up of a hit-and-run collision involving an off-duty Wichita police officer that was investigated by the FBI. The second video involves an Iraqi-American man who was handcuffed and detained after he tried to deposit a $151,000 check at a local bank. That man was later released without any charges after police determined the check was real.
Goering said releasing the videos would serve the public interest because they would help residents evaluate police conduct.
The city said it disagrees that officials “acted in bad faith” but that it would abide by the ruling. The city was also ordered to pay the Eagle’s legal fees in the case.
The newspaper’s attorney, Lyndon Vix, said the ruling should help clarify how public records requests for police videos in Kansas should be handled and when the release of records is in the public interest.
Emily Bradbury, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, said the ruling will promote government transparency.
“The judge’s ruling in this case warns public agencies that there are consequences for keeping the press in the dark,” Bradbury said. “We are hopeful that public agencies throughout the state will be more inclined to reasonably respond to open records requests going forward.”