Boy Scouts’ once-secret ‘perversion files’

The secrecy here serves to remind us all of the cost of violated trust, and the damage done by insular organizations that try to keep everything in house, even when it’s clearly not working. This Los Angeles Times story was made possible because the files became part of litigation…

Only a select few in Scouting have access to the files, which are kept in 15 locked cabinets at Scout headquarters in Irving, Texas. But over the years, hundreds of the files have been admitted as evidence, usually under seal, in lawsuits by former Scouts alleging a pattern of abuse in the organization.

Many of the files will soon be made public as a result of an Oregon Supreme Court decision. The court, in response to a petition by the Oregonian, the Associated Press, the New York Times and other media organizations, ordered the release of 1,247 files from 1965 to 1984 that had been admitted as evidence, under seal, in the 2010 lawsuit.

In anticipation of the release, attorneys for the Boy Scouts conducted an informal review of 829 of the files, saying they sought to put the contents in perspective. The Scouts said the review found 175 instances in which the files prevented men who’d been banned for alleged abuse from reentering the program.

The Times analyzed an overlapping, though broader and more recent, set of files, which were submitted in a California court case in 1992. Their contents vary but often include biographicalinformation on the accused, witness statements, police reports, parent complaints, news clippings, and correspondence between local Boy Scout officials and national headquarters.

What they found is truly disturbing:

A Los Angeles Times review of more than 1,200 files dating from 1970 to 1991 found more than 125 cases across the country in which men allegedly continued to molest Scouts after the organization was first presented with detailed allegations of abusive behavior.
Predators slipped back into the program by falsifying personal information or skirting the registration process. Others were able to jump from troop to troop around the country thanks to clerical errors, computer glitches or the Scouts’ failure to check the blacklist.

In some cases, officials failed to document reports of abuse in the first place, letting offenders stay in the organization until new allegations surfaced. In others, officials documented abuse but merely suspended the accused leader or allowed him to continue working with boys while on “probation.”

In at least 50 cases, the Boy Scouts expelled suspected abusers, only to discover later that they had reentered the program and were accused of molesting again…

The latest from the FOI shop at Mizzou…Banned Books

Forgive me a small plug, but my kids recently published this AMAZING series…and it is completely FOI-driven, so I thought our readers would enjoy it!

http://www.columbiamissourian.com/p/book-challenges/

cd

 

Florida Governor Vows to Make E-Mails Public In Record Time Using New System

Hmmmm….I am intrigued by this system, but also kind of tickled by some of the details in the story of its launch:

Gov. Rick Scott launched a new open records program Thursday dubbed “Project Sunburst,” designed to give the public — and the media — access to the emails to and from the governor and 11 top staff within seven days of writing them.

To access the system, click here. Domain and password are “sunburst”.

…It also helps Scott the governor who has struggled to repair his open government-averse reputation. Weeks into office, the governor’s transition staff inadvertently destroyed emails and the governor, wary of the state’s Sunshine Law, refused to use email until eight months into office.

…Even under the current system, MacNamara himself avoids building a public record. A Herald/Times review of five months of the chief of staff’s emails finds that MacNamara prefers phone calls and hand-written notes to email when he communicates.

The governor’s top advisor routinely responds to even mundane concerns by urging others to “come see me” or “call me” to avoid a paper trail. MacNamara said it’s because he’s a bad typist and prefers to have face-to-face conversations.

My ABSOLUTE favorite nugget:

When asked about Sunburst in an email last week, MacNamara replied “it’s a secret.”

A Nice Little FOI Audit by Michigan Students…

No reason why every journalism program in the country can’t do this:

On Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 29, the Spartan Online News Network, powered by Michigan State University journalism students, emailed most of the municipalities and school districts in Ingham County with a simple request. The students asked how many Freedom of Information Act requests these entities had received in each of the five preceding years. They cited the FOIA in their requests.

Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act
 says local government should respond or ask for an extension within five business days. We felt the request could be answered quickly, without straining local clerks. In some cases, this was true. In others, we have not heard back, long after the five-day response period has passed.

Some communities answered immediately, others denied the request and invited us to sue them in Circuit Court, as the law provides. Three, so far, have set fees ranging from $5 to $40 to perhaps more. In one case, we were told that this is just a crummy time of year to follow the Freedom of Information Act.

There is a lack of consistency about how easily governments make it easy for citizens to use the Freedom of Information Act and several reported glitchy email systems or websites. Some small communities have trouble complying with requests and others seem to do OK. In many cases, it might help to centralize FOIA requests.

FOI At Work: A Fascinating Look at Mizzou’s Move to the SEC…

Right here in my backyard, a really interesting look at the diplomacy, and lack thereof, in big-time college athletics:

In November, Big 12 interim Commissioner Chuck Neinas steeled for battle as the conference that was temporarily placed in his hands continued to fracture. His secret weapon would be a legal document that he could “wave around” in a meeting with Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive with the goal of keeping Missouri in the Big 12.

The lawsuit, slated to be filed in Boone County Circuit Court, never came to pass. But the 12-page draft of a petition for injunctive relief was obtained by the Tribune this month. It charged the SEC with illegally enticing Missouri to breach its contractual commitment to the Big 12 — an effort the suit states was “willful, deliberate and in bad faith” and the cause of “irreparable injury to the Big 12 for which money damages is not an adequate remedy.”

The draft requested an injunction to bar the SEC from accepting Missouri before June 30, 2016, the final day of the current Big 12 member agreement.

When Someone Asks You Why Transparency Matters…

You can point them to stories such as this

NYPD Westward Go-4 Interceptor 3793, Manhattan...

Image via Wikipedia

:

Millions of dollars in White House money has helped pay for New York Police Department programs that put entire American Muslim neighborhoods under surveillance.

The money is part of a little-known grant intended to help law enforcement fight drug crimes. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush and Obama administrations have provided $135 million to the New York and New Jersey region through the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, known as HIDTA.

Now, this is no more the White House’s conscious decision than it is simple right-hand-oblivious-to-what-the-left-hand-is-doing-itis, but the effect is the same: administration officials furiously trying to walk back a meme they’d rather never have started.

And why? Well, all because it’s a non-accountable grants program with little to no oversight and a ton of conflicted decision makers. This is the state of federal grants like these. This is not new. It was inevitable.

 

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Mugshot Publications: A Tough FOI Issue

This one is a bit difficult for me, until I place the situation into abstract First Amendment doctrine: these sites are acquiring public records, legally, of photos made, then publishing them. Yes, there are ample grounds here to debate the ethics of such publications, and the take-down fees are another matter altogether. But trying to parse broad restrictions on acquiring public records for “commercial use” takes us down a road no capitalist, information-rich economy wants to tread.

The story’s opening:

Mug shot magazines such as Mugly! and Busted! and their online equivalents have become popular in recent years. Some people just can’t resist visiting web sites or paying a buck at a local gas station for a thin tabloid full of pictures — some comical, others weird or just plain creepy — of people who’ve been arrested. Sometimes the photos depict people who were not convicted. Innocent people get caught up in the mix.

The magazine owners defend their product, saying they serve as a deterrent for future criminals, encourage Crime Stoppers tips, promote arrests, and put a face on area crime statistics. Mug shots are public record, they say, pointing to their First Amendment rights to publish the information. Besides, a caveat is included in the fine print: All suspects are innocent until proven guilty….

 

 

A Column Celebrating a Citizen FOI Warrior….

My pal Joel Campbell does something more columnists should do: highlighting a local FOI warrior. We need to do more of these sorts of stories extolling the virtues of citizen requesters!

Sitting in front of the State Records Committee on Thursday, Dan Schroeder deftly sorts through documents and cites the law as he responds to arcane legal points about why the Utah Attorney General’s Office won’t give him access to a closed investigation into the dubious Envision Ogden scheme.

Without a closer look, a casual observer might assume Schroeder is a trained lawyer with years of experience using Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). In reality, Schroeder is a physics professor at Weber State University whose “hobby” is challenging Ogden politicians. Utah could use more people like Schroeder.

Depending on whom you talk to, Schroeder is either a publicity monger or a watchdog on the steps of Ogden’s City Hall. Schroeder likes to say he investigates things that journalists neither have the time for nor the expertise to understand. He posts much of what he finds on a blog called Weber County Forum.

Schroeder has acquired a record of shining light on the actions of Ogden’s elite.

You Give FOI A Baaaaad Name….

Here’s a riveting story on an outfit that uses public records to demonstrate how exposed you are, then charges you to remove the information….what a racket!

Philip Cabibi, a 31-year-old applications administrator in Utah, sat at his computer one recent Sunday evening and performed one of the compulsive rituals of the Internet Age: the ego search. He typed his name into Google to take a quick survey of how the internet sees him, like a glance in the mirror.

There were two LinkedIn hits, three White Pages listings, a post he made last year to a Meetup forum for Italian-Americans in the Salt Lake City area. Then, coming in 10th place — barely crawling onto the first page of search results — was a disturbing item.

“Philip Cabibi Mugshot,” read the title. The description was “Mug shot for Philip Cabibi booked into the Pinellas County jail.”

When he clicked through, Cabibi was greeted with his mug shot and booking information from his 2007 drunk-driving arrest in Florida. It’s an incident in Cabibi’s life that he isn’t proud of, and one that he didn’t expect to find prominently listed in his search results four years later, for all the world to see.

The website was florida.arrests.org, a privately run enterprise that siphons booking photos out of county-sheriff databases throughout the Sunshine State, and posts them where Google’s web crawlers can see them for the first time. Desperate to get off the site, Cabibi quickly found an apparent ally: RemoveSlander.com. “You are not a criminal,” the website said reassuringly. “End this humiliating ordeal … Bail out of Google. We can delete the mug-shot photo.”

Cabibi paid RemoveSlander $399 by credit card, and within a day, the site had come through. His mug shot was gone from florida.arrests.org, and his Google results were clean.

DeMint Files FOIA Request Over NLRB’s Boeing Suit…

From a story in The Hill:

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) on Monday sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in an effort to “bring transparency” to what DeMint says was a partisan decision by the board to sue Boeing.

“The public facts surrounding the complaint raise serious questions about the interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act upon which it is based, to say nothing of the troubling appearance of partisan, special interest politics at its heart,” DeMint wrote in his June 6 letter.

The NLRB argues the suit is warranted because Boeing’s 2009 decision to move a production plant to South Carolina amounts to illegal retaliation against striking workers in Washington State. But Republicans charge that the suit is an open attack against right-to-work states like South Carolina on behalf of unions.

DeMint is looking for evidence that the suit was a result of coordination between the NLRB and the International Association of Machinists (IAM), and believes he has found it.

A copy of the request can be found here.

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