LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky State Police broke state public records law by refusing to turn over internal investigations and other documents in use-of-force cases sought by WDRB News, the state attorney general’s office has ruled.
In January, WDRB asked for five investigative files and one internal affairs investigation. Among other things, the requests included probes into troopers who kicked and struck a handcuffed Harlan County man during a 2016 arrest.
State police declined to provide the records, saying they were for "administrative purposes only." Moreover, police argued, the files were "preliminary" -- a commonly used exemption under Kentucky's Open Records Act.
But WDRB appealed the denial, contending that as long as police used the investigative findings in any final action, such as a disciplinary measure, they are no longer preliminary. Attorney General Andy Beshear's office, which rules on public records disputes, agreed.
The attorney general’s office concluded that the investigations and accompanying interviews were used by State Police Commissioner Rick Sanders in his findings -- whether any disciplinary action was taken or not -- so they “forfeited their preliminary characterization,” Assistant Attorney General Michelle D. Harrison wrote.
Police violated the law by withholding “all of the investigations and related paperwork in their entirety,” Harrison wrote.
State police argued the investigations are for “administrative purposes only” and statements from troopers are “preliminary in nature.” In addition, police said troopers are told their interviews will not be made public.
“Keeping preliminary documents exempt from disclosure protects the integrity of investigations by allowing investigators to freely express opinions without fear or retaliation,” state police wrote to Beshear's office.
State police have repeatedly lost this same argument with the attorney general’s office before but have filed a lawsuit in court appealing one of the rulings, which is pending.
Use-of-force-incidents are called “response to resistance” by state police.
State police initially said the Harlan County man, Lewis Lyttle, did not follow orders, became combative and assaulted officers as they tried to arrest him outside a hospital on Aug. 1, 2016.
But cellphone videos and more than a dozen sworn statements from eyewitnesses painted a different picture, and were the focus of a wrongful arrest and assault lawsuit against police.
State police eventually paid the man $130,000 and an internal investigation concluded that one of the officers used excessive force.
Sgt. Rob Farley was suspended 120 days and demoted from sergeant to trooper. None of the other officers were punished.
On Jan. 15, WDRB asked for the internal investigations and responses from all of the troopers involved, along with documents in other use-of-force cases.
State police have 30 days to appeal the attorney general's ruling.
Copyright 2019 WDRB News. All rights reserved. Reporter Travis Ragsdale contributed to this story.