Ted Gest, Public Information Officer (OAG)
Gwendolyn Crump (MPD)
WASHINGTON, D. C. – The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has decided that Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy L. Lanier is not required to disclose the identities of employees who sent emails to her at a special email account she promised would be held in strict confidence, D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan announced today.
Chief Lanier created an account known as “Chief Concerns” so that MPD employees could communicate with her directly with questions, comments, and concerns. She pledged to hold the identity of those who communicated to this account in confidence.
The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the police officers union, filed suit in D.C. Superior Court under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act demanding copies of emails sent to the “Chief Concerns” account, including the identity of employees who sent them. The District produced copies of the emails, but redacted the names of the senders, as well as identifying information such as their rank and unit, to protect their privacy.
In a unanimous decision yesterday, written by Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, the Court of Appeals upheld the District’s position that the content of the emails that it had disclosed were sufficient to “inform the public of the substance and content of the individual officers’ concerns” in full satisfaction of the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.
In rejecting the FOP’s demands for the employees’ identities, the Court stated that the “FOP . . . offers nothing more than bare suspicion,” and that the “speculative nature of FOP’s asserted hypothetical public interest is simply insufficient for us to give it weight as a public interest.” The Court of Appeals entered judgment as a matter of law for the District of Columbia.
Attorney General Nathan commended the Court of Appeals’ careful analysis and said that “we are gratified that the Court has once again recognized that the FOP’s demands were unjustified under law and not in the public interest.” The Attorney General praised the work of Assistant Attorney General Mary Wilson of the District’s Office of the Solicitor General, who argued the appeal, and Chad Copeland of the OAG’s Public Interest Division, who represented the District in the Superior Court phase of the case.
Chief Lanier said she was pleased that the court recognized the important privacy issues at stake in this case. “I created Chief Concerns so that members of the Department could share their concerns anonymously—without fear of retaliation or the hassle of going through the Chain of Command,” she said. “I wanted their identities to be protected, and this court action should be reassurance for those who want to communicate with me.”