Help Never Stop Media Obtain Open Records
With Sunshine Week over, Never Stop Media’s fight for transparency isn’t. Wisconsin’s open records law is meant to allow for members of the public and the press to hold government officials accountable. “It is public policy that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them. The public records law must be construed in every instance with a presumption of complete public access, consistent with the conduct of governmental business”. As you know NSM filed a Writ of Mandamus against the Kenosha Police Department, on March 17th, because sometimes these officials fight transparency, using a variety of tactics to keep information hidden and Kenosha has made it very clear they are not interested in any level of transparency.
As we’ve seen in recent months with open records requests in high demand, these government bodies are charging high prices, denying requests, ignoring requests or stalling for months before releasing records. That is why we are turning to our readers, to help us get records we have been requesting for the last several months.
Last August, Kenosha WI became known across the world because of a week’s long unrest following the shooting of Jacob Blake. While we all sat back and watched “live streams” and news reports of events that happened during that week, the truth is, we know very little about what actually happened. NSM has filed 2 open records requests with the Kenosha Police Department trying to obtain records from the protests in an attempt to give the public more information about what really happened. The first request was denied on the basis that we had to go through the Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office to obtain these records despite the fact that KPD has control of these records. The second request which is almost identical was denied because it was labeled “overly burdensome”. We don’t think giving the general public a clear picture of what happened last August is overly burdensome”. And with everything Kenosha went through, we strongly believe the residents have a right to know what happened beyond what we’ve seen in news reports. The same request was also filed with the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department which was also denied for being “overly burdensome”. Open records requests have also been filed with the FBI, US Marshal’s Service and the ATF regarding the unrest in Kenosha. We are still waiting for a response from these requests.
Requests were sent pertaining to Detective Pablo Torres of the Kenosha Police Department for his personnel file. Torres is responsible for multiple excessive use of force complaints, inappropriate comments, and shooting two individuals in a 10 day period, killing one individual named Aaron Siler. Torres is also responsible for the arrests of two journalists during the protests which is a violation of the 1st Amendment. Records were originally given to Fox6 several years ago but have been ignored when Never Stop Media asked for them. There is a public interest in disciplinary actions taken against public officials and employees—especially those employed in law enforcement. The courts repeatedly have recognized the great importance of disclosing disciplinary records of public officials and employees when their conduct violates the law or significant work rules. Not only is Torres’ personnel file of public interest, KPD is discriminating against NSM by denying records they have released to other media outlets years prior.
In September 2020, Never Stop Media released audio scanner from the Kenosha Police Department that highlighted various elements of discrimination and corruption surrounding militia vs. protestors and the elusive details surrounding Kyle Rittenhouse’s escape to Illinois. The Mandamus suit states “Evidence of official cover-up is a potent reason for disclosing records. Citizens have a very strong public interest in being informed about public officials who have been derelict in their duties”.
With 13 requests filed with KPD ranging from incident reports, automatic license plate readers, protests, their insurance company and discrimination and harassment of their own officers, we have to ask what they are hiding behind closed doors that they don’t want residents of Kenosha to know.
In recent months we have released multiple videos on the Never Stop Voices YouTube Channel from open records requests we have obtained from various departments across Wisconsin. Be sure to Subscribe to the channel!!!
In February, Never Stop Media released Body Cam and CCTV footage regarding Kyle Rittenhouse’s visit to Pudgy’s Pub that was obtained from an open records request with the Mt. Pleasant Police Department, where Giese can be heard being concerned about “the crazies” (protestors) showing up once word got out that Rittenhouse had made an appearance at the bar. We recently filed another request with Mt. Pleasant asking for Sgt. Giese’s complete personnel file and were denied. Again, records contained in this file have been made public with other media outlets but are not available to NSM, while other records in this file remain under lock and key. Giese was reprimanded in early 2020, from 3 separate incidents that happened in 2019. In April 2019, Giese was reprimanded for using a controversial precision immobilization technique with his police cruiser, a maneuver the Mt. Pleasant Police Department did not train their officers to use as most law enforcement around the country have stopped using this technique due to the deadly consequences. Giese is the departments training officer for vehicle pursuits. Why is it that after law enforcement personnel are reprimanded (if ever) are they then promoted or rewarded? In June 2019, Giese was reprimanded for failing to “ask for speeds” during a vehicle pursuit, as well as securing his squad car. Also in June 2019, Giese would shoot and kill Tyrese West after attempting to pull him over for failure to have a bicycle head light while riding at night. West took off on foot and according to Giese, West threw a handgun, was lying face down and after Giese had is foot on the hand closest to the gun, Giese claims West got his hand free and then shot him multiple times in the head. Conveniently, Mt. Pleasant PD has a Body Cam policy that doesn’t require their officers to turn them on and Giese’s squad camera was full and failed to record the shooting. This incident has sparked outrage in the city. In 2013, Giese was seen on squad video during a traffic stop using excessive force, slamming the driver on the ground and punching him repeatedly, an action Giese claims he did not do despite the video clearly showing this. Giese was not reprimanded for either incident. We want the personnel file and we’re not the only ones, but according to the Mt. Pleasant Police Chief Matt Soens, he claims there are no records created by the Mt. Pleasant Police Department inside of Giese’s personnel file, which seems odd and not believable in any sense. He also goes on to state that “disclosure of the records would violate section 19.95(1)(f) to protect the reputation and privacy interests of the individual”. This is a common reason for denial which is actually a gross misrepresentation of the open records law. The department believes maintaining confidentiality outweighs any interest in disclosing any of these records. To date Mt. Pleasant Police Department has continued to refuse the release of Giese’s personnel file with any source who requests it.
After filing the Writ of Mandamus against KPD, Wauwatosa finally responded and are working on the 3 requests we’ve had sitting there for over 2 months. We are still waiting on open records from a multitude of requests on a number of police departments throughout Wisconsin that we hope will be ready sooner rather than later.
While we’ve been lucky enough to obtain a variety of records that we have released over the last 7 months, clearly we are running into roadblocks as well as long delays. While some of the records we have released have not had a fee attached to them due to the simplicity of the requests, NSM is going after much larger and more important requests from several government entities in order to provide our readers with the greatest possible transparency on a variety of issues and these records are going to cost a significant amount of money to obtain once they are released to us.
Help Never Stop Media uncover these records. For every dollar raised we are one step closer to providing transparency throughout Wisconsin and holding our law enforcement and official’s accountable and helping pave the way for a safer Wisconsin.
In addition to financially supporting the quest for records, if you have a tip or information about what records we should request, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org