Four examples of the York Daily Record fighting for your right to know
Four examples of the York Daily Record fighting for your right to know
March 12-18 is Sunshine Week, a time to celebrate the freedom of information that allows rulers to act as watchdogs of their governments. It is also a time to shine a light on the many barriers that elected and appointed officials have built to keep citizens in the dark. Journalists are often canaries in the coal mine of government secrets, as our mission to report the news puts us first in cases where transparency is lacking.
The York Daily Record has a long history of using right-to-know laws and the Freedom of Information Act to shed light on our government, and 2022 has been a particularly busy year for us on that front.
Here are four examples of the York Daily Record spending its time and money where its editorial faces fight for the public’s right to know:
Vicosa case: ‘major concern’
Former Baltimore County Police Officer Robert Vicosa was devastated In November 2021.
He locked his wife in his basement, forced her to take drugs, threatened to kill her and their two young daughters, and raped her repeatedly. He later kidnapped his daughters and drove from his York Township home to Lame with his girlfriend, Baltimore County Police Sgt. It sparked a massive manhunt in Maryland after police chased him down a rural road, shooting his children, his girlfriend and himself in a moving car.
The tragic deaths of these two innocent young women could have been prevented if local police in York County had immediately issued an emergency protection from abuse order that Vicosa’s wife sought after she was kidnapped. But the municipal police chief stopped the PFA service in an emergency.
The state attorney general investigated how the police handled the PFA and The York County District Attorney’s Office issued a letter That included a timeline of events and outlined “our major concerns with some of the errors and decisions that led to this unfortunate situation.” The AG’s office wrote that the timeline “may be useful to you in developing appropriate law enforcement policies to assist law enforcement and prevent future tragedies like this.”
The York Daily Record filed a right-to-know law request for the letter. The DA released a transcript that omitted important timelines of events. The newspaper requested the full letter, but the DA’s and AG’s offices denied access.
It was unacceptable. What could be more important than a letter highlighting such major concerns and flaws in public safety and police policy?
It was time to advocate.
The York Daily Record has hired a Harrisburg law firm 2022 to fight for public access to this important document, and the case is still winding its way through the courts.
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Taking the clerk to court
Example No. 2: Our reporters must rely on the York County Clerk of Courts Office for timely, uninterrupted access to criminal court records. But we keep running into roadblocks. The office has removed a computer terminal that allows easy public access to such documents. When we requested the documents, they were delayed or haphazardly redacted – or we were charged fees allowed under state regulations. The Clerk of Court declined our attempts to mediate these issues.
There seemed to be no other option but to hire a clerk per The court contacted the newspaper Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and then we marshaled a coalition of four central Pennsylvania news organizations to fight for public access. We sent more than a dozen journalists and “regular citizens” to the office, requesting case files and documenting the outcome of each request. The effort made a strong case that the office was inconsistent and capricious in its handling of document requests. We have filed a case And, after many depositions and much legal wrangling, finally A settlement is reached which outlines the expectations of the clerk and mandates training for his staff.
The York Daily Record joined another Central Pennsylvania media consortium last year to unseal a FBI search warrant For the cellphone of U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, a York County-based Republican. We are working with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and two other local news organizations Looking for documents That allowed the FBI to seize the phone of our congressman – who was the focus of the committee’s investigation into the January 6th insurgency.
The fate of our unsealing bid remains unclear, as sought by the government Even seal his response to our request. But we stay Stay true to our promise The principle is that Perry’s constituents have a right to know why the FBI seized his phone.
CV or CV?
And finally, when is a resume not a resume?
When your county government decides it’s apparently not.
For the past several years, the York Daily Record has been reporting on the correctional trainer hired as a contractor for the York County Jail. Controversy seems to follow this trainer like bloodhounds – or one of these Giant schnauzers He advocated for use in the suppression of unruly prisoners. He was in a heart Federal cases elsewhereAnd he was The lawsuit was filed by a group of York County inmates who alleged mistreatment. His aggressive tactics led to his expulsion in other prisons. Oh, and we discovered he had one Criminal records in Britain.
It seemed fair to ask county officials why they thought this was the right person to train guards to break inmates out of jails and quell riots. At the request of the Right to Know Act, we asked for the contractor’s resume to help our readers evaluate his qualifications.
First, the county said it didn’t have a curriculum. Later, it said, oh wait, we have a 128-page document labeled as a CV, but it’s not actually a CV. Then, the county told us it received an eight-page document that was actually his CV for this period.
Well, you see, the county said, resumes are usually short, and the contractor’s “verified CV” header is long — 128 pages. Also, the contractor himself labeled the CVT as “classified”. So, deny the request. the state The Office of Open Records has ruled that CVs should be publicBut the county appealed.
Re-enter the Committee on Freedom of the Press for Reporters. The party accepted our case, Representing newspapers A the hearing Where prison officials admitted they used very long CVs to confirm the contractor’s qualifications. Unfortunately, the judge issued a misleading nonruling that the issue was moot, so we’re looking to continue the legal battle this year.
Clearly, the Reporters Committee has played a heroic role in our quest for public transparency. But it all starts with the York Daily Record’s principled refusal not to take no for an answer when vital freedom of information is at stake.
Let the rays of the sun come.
Scott Fisher is the Central Pennsylvania news director for the USA TODAY Network, which includes the York Daily Record and the Evening Sun in Hanover. Contact him at [email protected]
This article originally appeared in the York Daily Record: Sunshine Week: Four examples of YDR fighting for your right to know
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