Badger Project drops lawsuit against La Crosse Police Department

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) —  A lawsuit against the La Crosse Police Department is no longer moving forward.

The Badger Project, a journalism non-profit that originally filed the suit, has dropped it after the city provided it with public records regarding a former officer.

The lawsuit first came after its managing editor was denied public records regarding a police officer who resigned.

“The lawsuit was dropped because we got what we wanted right away,” said Tom Kamenick, the founder and president of the Wisconsin Transparency Project.

Kamenick is an attorney, and he filed the lawsuit on the Badger Project’s behalf, and he hopes it makes a difference.

“If you’re denying a request, know why you’re doing it and make sure the reasons for doing it are lawful. There are only limited exemptions in the open records law and there’s a default presumption of access,” Kamenick said.

Kamenick filed the lawsuit on the Badger Project’s behalf.

According to Wisconsin law, all public records are open to the public unless the government can point to a specific legal exemption.

In the city’s original denial, Kamenick says they cited a statute that didn’t apply and didn’t explain it.

“They’re supposed to explain their reasoning and explain why this statute covers these records, why the default of access does not apply to these records. And second of all, there is no exemption for internal disciplinary records,” Kamenick said.

This isn’t an uncommon scenario; It’s one Kamenick sees all the time.

“Court after court has held that they cannot withhold those records, especially on a blanket basis,” Kamenick said.

He said about two thirds of the cases he files end quickly… where records get resolved… and fees get dropped.

The La Crosse City Attorney who handled this case was unavailable for comment.

However, he said in an email to the transparency project that the decision to deny those records was made “in error.”

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