The Alaska Supreme Court ruled Friday that the state was wrong to allow Alaska State Troopers to deny a records request made by a man involved in a civil rights case against individual troopers and other Alaska law enforcement officers.
Kaleb Basey, 27, of Fairbanks, was indicted Dec. 16, 2014, on three counts of attempted enticement of a minor and one count of receipt of child pornography as a result of an investigation by troopers and the Fort Wainwright Criminal Investigation Division. He was convicted by a federal grand jury Dec. 12 on one count of transporting child pornography but has not been sentenced.
In January 2016, Basey brought a federal civil rights lawsuit against six troopers who were also members of the Alaska Bureau of Investigation, two members of the troopers’ Fairbanks-area Narcotics Team, a digital forensics examiner for ABI’s Technical Crimes Unit, four members of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Division stationed at Fort Wainwright, one Alaska-based FBI agent and three Fort Wainwright military police officers. The suit was based on the alleged actions of the officers and agents during their investigation and Basey’s arrest.
Basey filed two public records requests in September 2016. He sought records related to the investigation, troopers’ use of military search authorizations and disciplinary and training certification records for two trooper investigators. According to the high court’s opinion, Basey filed the suit because he believed, in part, the records were relevant to his theory that troopers have a pattern of illegally using military search authorizations for civilian investigations.
Troopers denied Basey’s request about a week later, saying all the information pertained to pending litigation. Basey appealed to the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, but the appeal was denied. Basey responded by filing a complaint in Superior Court to compel troopers to release the records, but the lower court filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing two statutory exceptions.
According to the state, one statute authorized refusal to disclose records pertaining to pending criminal prosecution. The other authorized refusal to disclose records when the requestor is a party in a pending civil lawsuit that relates to those records.
Basey argued in response that he named individuals in the suit, while the litigation exception only applied when the requestor was “involved in litigation with the state.” Basey also argued that law enforcement did not sufficiently prove that the records’ disclosure would interfere with their enforcement. The lower court dismissed the case without holding a hearing.
The Supreme Court reviewed the case and found that, though Basey was “unquestionably involved in the litigation,” the exception cited by the state applied only when the litigation involved a public agency.
“The state failed to establish Basey was involved in such litigation,” according to the court. “Basey’s complaint refers to his criminal case, but that case is being prosecuted by the federal government, not the state. The federal government is not a ‘public agency’ as defined in the Public Records Act.”
The high court also found the state could not invoke the law enforcement interference exception “merely by pointing to a pending criminal case involving the requestor” and that dismissal of Basey’s complaint was in error.
“Basey’s complaint referred to his federal criminal prosecution, but nothing in the complaint shows ‘beyond doubt’ that disclosure of the requested records could reasonably be expected to interfere with the federal criminal case,” the justices said in the opinion.
The Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s dismissal of the case and sent the matter back for further proceedings.