Friday, July 19, 2024

Public records lawsuit against Post Falls Police Department proceeds

Staff Writer | July 10, 2024 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — A lawsuit filed by an incarcerated man asking the court to compel the Post Falls Police Department to disclose certain records will proceed, a Kootenai County judge ruled Tuesday.

Spokane resident Chadlen D. Smith filed the lawsuit last summer from inside an Idaho prison.

Smith received a 10-year prison sentence in July 2022, after a jury convicted him of sexual exploitation of a child by possession of sexually exploitative material. He was arrested in 2021 for allegedly stalking a Post Falls Police Department employee and later arrested again and charged with violating a protective order. 

Electronics in Smith’s possession at the time of his arrest contained images of nude children, toddlers and infants, as well as other photos of children that did not qualify as pornography, according to court records. Smith had a prior felony conviction of injury to a child, stemming from a 2009 lewd conduct case. 

In 2022 and 2023, Smith submitted public records requests to the Post Falls Police Department, seeking police body camera and dash camera footage from his arrest Jan. 2, 2021. 

The Post Falls Police Department fulfilled the requests in part and denied them in part. The agency based the denial on the grounds that at least one requested video contained personal information and releasing it would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” 

Under Idaho law, public records are exempt from disclosure in some circumstances. These include investigatory records compiled for law enforcement purposes by a law enforcement agency when producing such records would constitute “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” 

The agency’s response also indicated that some records were unavailable at the time of the request because the agency only retains media for two years.

The sole remedy for a person “aggrieved by the denial of a request for disclosure” is to petition the district court to compel the public agency to make the information available to the public.” 

Legal counsel representing the Post Falls Police Department filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the city and police department were not served with the suit until 297 days after the complaint was filed, well outside the 182-period allowed under the Idaho Rules of Civil Procedure. 

First District Judge Rich Christensen determined that service was not untimely in this case because an attorney representing the city filed a notice of appearance in April. Doing so is the equivalent of service of the process, the court ruled. 

“The court finds that voluntary appearance, as odd as that may be by itself, prevents the court from granting the motion to dismiss,” Christensen said Tuesday. 

As such, Christensen denied Post Falls’ motion to dismiss the case.