District of Columbia Sued Over MPD’s Withholding of Public Records Related to D.C. Gang Database

Transparency and Accountability Failures by DC and DC Police are a violation of the Freedom of Information Act

For more information contact:

Gregg Kelley, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs Gregg_Kelley@washlaw.org, 202-319-1070

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the Chicago Justice Project filed suit against the District of Columbia for the Metropolitan Police Department’s failure to comply with the D.C. Freedom of Information Act and refusal to provide public records requested nearly six months ago.

Over the last 13 years, MPD has built a Gang Database to secretly surveil D.C. residents, almost exclusively residents of color, and MPD uses it to determine where and whom to police. MPD’s Gang Database has been subject to extensive recent public debate and media attention, highlighting systemic problems that disproportionally impact D.C. residents of color. Those problems include a high number of false positive entries (including infant children); frequent disregard of MPD’s own internal policies regarding the database; MPD’s failure to abide by federal regulations governing inter-jurisdictional databases; and the disproportionate surveillance of D.C. residents of color.

To demand transparency, the Chicago Justice Project submitted a FOIA request for specific public records relating to the Gang Database last September. Now, more than 250 days since the Chicago Justice Project submitted its request, the MPD continues to withhold documents that describe how MPD tracks and catalogues individuals in its Gang Database.  Such action aligns with MPD’s long history of delayed compliance with FOIA and purposeful obstruction of transparency into the actions of government officials.

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and seeks a court order that the D.C. government must disclose the public records requested by the Chicago Justice Project and declare that MPD has violated the D.C. FOIA.

“It is of the utmost importance that police departments that collect and disseminate information about residents do so in a way that is transparent and with a commitment to minimizing the harm caused by their activities,” said Tracy Siska, Executive Director of the Chicago Justice Project. “The Metropolitan Police Department’s responses to our requests for records under the District’s Freedom of Information Act are woefully insufficient and representative of a department that has no interest in partnering with the communities they serve.”

“With the recent discovery that MPD maintains a ‘watchlist’ of critics with the intent to withhold records from them, along with the existence of numerous lawsuits that illustrate how MPD repeatedly fails to provide records in compliance with FOIA, it is of the utmost importance to bring cases that require police departments to meet even the most basic standards of transparency in our society. This is especially true in a case where MPD refuses to provide information on how it actively tracks thousands of D.C. Black and Brown residents,” stated Jacqueline Kutnik-Bauder, Deputy Legal Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

The Chicago Justice Project is represented by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

You can access the unstamped, accessible filed complaint here.

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