OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- Washington's Supreme Court has limited the ability of police agencies to automatically withhold investigative records under the Public Records Act.
The 5-4 ruling came Thursday in the case of Evan Sargent, a man who was in a confrontation with an off-duty Seattle officer in 2009. The city settled the case just days earlier, agreeing to pay Sargent $235,000 to drop his legal claims of civil rights and Public Records Act violations.
The confrontation ensued when Sargent left his car blocking the alley, and he was arrested for investigation of assault. The prosecutor's office declined to immediately file charges and sent the case back to police for further investigation.
Sargent sought documents related to his case and on an internal investigation of the officer.
The majority of the justices said that once the case was referred for charges the first time, police were no longer entitled to withhold the documents under a blanket exemption for ongoing investigative files. Instead, they would have to prove that any documents withheld would jeopardize effective law enforcement if released.
The minority said the court's ruling erodes important protections for active police work.