Remember the right-to-work protests in Michigan late last year that felled a tent hosted by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity and damaged the personal property of others? Now the same group is seeking to obtain video of the incident from law enforcement, but is being told it will cost them nearly $20,000.
“You can’t put a price tag on the public’s right to know,” Scott Hagerstrom, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Michigan, said in a statement. “Transparency is our best means to stem corruption and boost public confidence in those government servants who took an oath to serve and protect.”
According to AFP-Michigan’s press release, through the Freedom of Information Act it requested videotaped material of the protests that it believed was held by the Michigan State Police. The FOIA was filed in Dec. 21 and the police asked for extra time to respond until Jan. 4. This extension was followed by AFP receiving a notice Jan. 18 that said to access the video it would cost them $19,602.52 in fees. To search, retrieve, review, sift through records and separate materials that might be exempt, the police stated to AFP, would cost $19,573.92 in employee labor alone.
With this fee, AFP-Michigan responded to state police asking that the fee be waived. The letter sent this month says that while AFP understands there is a cost associated with retrieving such information, it believes the fee should be waived because the information would benefit the general public:
While the public has been made aware that violence, property damage, and destruction took place they do not have a complete understanding of the events that transpired. The videotaped material in possession of the Michigan State Police would significantly add to the public’s understanding of the events of December 11, 2012. Upon receipt of the requested records AFP intends to make the material available to the public and the news media to provide a more complete understanding of the events of December 11, 2012.
“Instead of a safe haven for civil public discourse, they were met with violence, threats of violence and destruction of personal property,” Hagerstrom said in a statement. “We will not allow their speech to be chilled. We will continue to endeavor to better understand what happened that day. By understanding we can ensure that such blatant disregard for first amendment rights will not be allowed to happen again.”
Michigan State Police Spokeswoman Shanon Banner explained to MLive.com that the cost for obtaining the footage might seem high, but there is more than 400 hours of footage from 23 cameras in the area that would need to be reviewed.
“We suggested if they were looking for specific information they could narrow their request (and therefore the cost) by requesting either certain areas of the Capitol or certain time frames, but they indicated to us they were not interested in narrowing the request,” Banner said in the e-mail to MLive.com.
Watch this spectator footage of the tent being torn down (Content warning: strong language):
Here’s some video from YouTube of the tent being torn apart after it was downed:
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