Cleveland officials are taking the stance that the public does not have the right to see un-redacted video and images of police officers who are formally charged with committing crimes.
City law director Barbara Langhenry said in an email exchange with cleveland.com that the city will use an exemption in the public records law in order to blur the faces of police officers in police body camera videos, even when those officers are off-duty and are formally charged with committing crimes.
Cleveland.com requested video on Feb. 16 of police officer Angelia Gaston, who is charged with obstructing justice after she drove away from a fellow police officer who was trying to tow her car because of some $1,500 in parking tickets Gaston had accrued.
The city provided the video with Gaston's face blurred. In contrast, videos of other criminals charged with crimes do not under go similar editing.
Langhenry's office also uses the exemption to refuse the release mug shots when officers are booked into the city jail on criminal charges.
Langhenry did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment and clarification. City spokesman Dan Williams said in an email that Langhenry was consulting with attorneys at the law firm BakerHostetler and would provide an explanation.
Williams later responded on Langhenry's behalf, saying that the city is going to stand by their "policy."
The exemption the city cites is a provision in the Ohio Sunshine Laws that says photos of officers who are assigned to plain clothes or undercover work are protected from having their photos publicly released.
Langhenry said in an email that Safety Director Michael McGrath has said that "all Cleveland Police Officers may at any time be assigned undercover or plain clothes positions or assignments."
The exemption would cover all officers, even ones that have never had an undercover assignment.
A public records attorney and an open government advocate both called the city's reasoning "absurd."