NEW ORLEANS – The Innocence Project of New Orleans (IPNO), a non-profit law office that represents innocent prisoners serving life sentences in Louisiana and Mississippi, filed suit against the New Orleans Police Department after requesting 12 initial reports, and being charged a rate of $175 for each report.
The suit was filed in the Orleans Parish Civil District Court on Aug. 8.
Since the IPNO’s founding in 2001, it has relied on access to public records under the Louisiana Public Records Act to investigate and prove cases of wrongful conviction, the complaint says.
On June 6, 2013, IPNO requested 12 New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) initial reports regarding homicides ranging from 1973 to 1986 that took place in New Orleans. In response, the NOPD asserted that it must generate a “calls for service” report for each address at the cost of $150 each, in addition to the $25 fee charged for each initial report, according to the suit.
NOPD internal procedures allegedly involve an NOPD staff member determining the item number for each initial report by using the date and location of the crime provided by the IPNO to locate a computerized “call for service” report. For this procedure, the NOPD would charge $150 per case.
The IPNO cites the Louisiana Constitution, which says that “no person shall be denied the right to…examine public documents, except in cases established by law” and claims that the fee the NOPD wishes to charge is not legal as it is not a fee for copying, and a requester must be allowed to inspect records for free.
A writ of mandamus is sought to be issued to co-defendant Chief Ronal Serpas, ordering him to provide IPNO access to the 12 initial reports to inspect and copy them without charge, or with only a reasonable charge.
The case has been assigned to Division I Judge Piper Griffin.
Case no. 2013-07478.