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Independence resident files Ohio Supreme Court public-records suit accusing police chief, city of providing her with altered and incomplete records about City’s traffic-ticket quota

Monday, March 9, 2020

Mary Jane Horton has also requested an independent criminal investigation of the police chief for altering records.

INDEPENDENCE, OH — Today, local Independence, Ohio activist Mary Jane Horton filed a mandamus action with the Supreme Court of Ohio. Her suit alleges that Police Chief Michael Kilbane and the City of Independence failed to comply with the Ohio Public Records Act in responding to her January 16, 2019, public-records request for four specific records about its traffic-ticket quota.

On January 14, 2019, Ms. Horton watched a news broadcast about the City of Independence imposing a traffic-ticket quota. According to the broadcast, the City was requiring its officers to “meet or exceed 10 traffic citations/month” and to complete “at least 2–3 traffic enforcement actions per shift.” The news story reported that an officer had been given a written warning and had filed a grievance over the reprimand.

On January 16, 2019, Ms. Horton submitted a public-records request under Ohio law to the Independence Police Department for the following records mentioned in the news reporting:

  • The police memo that shows a “…Productivity Standard…Patrol Officers shall meet or exceed 10 traffic citations/month.”
  • The memo that refers to “…at least 2–3 traffic enforcement actions per shift.” Those can include warnings or crash investigation and more, not just tickets.
  • A copy of the written warning given to the police officer who did not write enough tickets.
  • A copy of the grievance that was filed by the police officer in this case.

On January 17, 2019, Chief Kilbane responded to Ms. Horton’s public-records request, indicating that he was producing responsive records to Item 1 and Item 3, but stating that “We have no records responsive” to Item 2 or to Item 4.

Of the four public records that Ms. Horton requested, Chief Kilbane produced only one record in its complete and accurate form (the memo requiring officers to meet or exceed 10 traffic citations/month). The only other record that Chief Kilbane provided her was, the suit alleges, an altered version of the written warning to Patrol Officer Brian Dalton, the officer who did not meet his ticket quota.

The mandamus petition alleges that the actual written reprimand was altered before Chief Kilbane produced it to Ms. Horton. In the altered version, a significant portion of text is missing from the middle of the page, including where the officer wrote “Refused No Just Cause!” I Have [sic] Threatened And Am Signing This Under Duress!” Not only did Chief Kilbane did not provide written legal authority for the redaction, but he failed to even inform Ms. Horton that he was providing an altered or redacted version of the write up.

Regarding Ms. Horton’s request for the memo referring to “2–3 enforcement actions per shift,” the suit alleges that Chief Kilbane falsely asserted that there were no such records. According to the suit, that document exists and Chief Kilbane received a copy of it on August 8, 2018.

As for the grievance, Chief Kilbane admitted that the officer filed a grievance, and that Chief Kilbane denied the grievance. He then claimed the officer withdrew the grievance and thus it was no longer a public record. He cited no authority for this interpretation of the statute.

Ms. Horton’s attorney Ashlie Case Sletvold said, “Public officials cannot legitimately hide their policies and activities from the public. But that seems to be exactly what Independence tried to do when its police chief failed to provide Ms. Horton with complete and accurate records about its traffic-ticket quota. Ms. Horton is determined to hold to account those responsible for withholding and altering public records.”

Today’s public-records mandamus action can be found here.

Through her counsel, Ms. Horton has also asked city officials to launch an independent investigation potential criminal wrongdoing by the police chief in handling Ms. Horton’s public-records request about the traffic-ticket quota, saying

The failure to appropriately respond to Ms. Horton’s public-records request may constitute tampering with records (R.C. 2913.42(A)(1)–(2)), tampering with evidence (R.C. 2921.12(A)(1)–(2)), interfering with civil rights (R.C. 2921.45(A)), intimidation (R.C. 2921.03(A)), and dereliction of duty (R.C. 2921.44(E)). As detailed in the complaint, the failure to notify her that the reprimand to Officer Dalton was redacted also violates the City’s own public-records policy.

Sletvold, Subodh Chandra, and Brian Bardwell of The Chandra Law Firm LLC represent Ms. Horton.

Related Practice Areas
Government Ethics, Misconduct, Fraud, & AbuseOhio Public Records Act, Open Meetings Act, FOIA, & Sunshine LawsPolice Misconduct & Brutality

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