As the City of Ludington Daily News (COLDNews) reprints editorials all week from other real newspapers celebrating Sunshine Week and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), they remain totally mum about their own city failing to provide public records and act only as apologists for them. The latest FOIA appeal I have before the city council is a case in point, but is only one of a long list of denied records that the COLDNews conveniently ignores even when all those editorials they reprint say they should think otherwise.
One of the odd dilemmas about the 2011 Baby Kate disappearance (despite Sean Phillips' conviction of second degree murder of Baby Kate, an actual murder occurring has never been proven), is that the mother, Ariel Courtland, has never been considered a suspect (either primary or secondary) by the investigating police, and the public has never been told why.
Chief Barnett claimed in a statement: " Extensive investigation into Ms. Courtland has been conducted by multiple law enforcement agencies. It has been concluded by investigators, and through judicial proceedings, that she did not have the time, means, or motive necessary, or that she has any knowledge of Baby Kate's whereabouts."
County detectives have been even bolder, saying she was not a suspect of anything after their interview with her the night of the disappearance, before any judicial proceedings. These statements are all rather irresponsible, given that nobody other than her (and maybe Sean) had viewed Baby Kate since 10 PM the previous night.
Even bolder has been Courtland in her statements to the media, as related in chronological order:
Mlive June 30, 2011: Courtland said she has already taken a polygraph test and passed. "I don't want people to ever, for one second, think that I would harm my child," she said.
COLDNews July 2, 2011: Courtland told the Daily News Thursday morning that she had been interviewed by police throughout the night Wednesday into Thursday and had taken and passed a lie detector test about the incident.
Mlive July 29, 2011: Courtland said Phillips refused to take a polygraph test. She said she took one and passed. Authorities have never named Courtland as a suspect.
Natisha Lance (August 2011 Nancy Grace CNN Transcript): That is true, according to [Ariel Courtland]. She says that she went to the police station. She was there for about 12 hours. She took the polygraph, especially because she said that Sean Phillips was blaming this on her. She took the polygraph and she says that she passed. Police, however, are not confirming or denying that.
Even six years later, and through two trials for Baby Kate's father (Sean Phillips) for unlawful imprisonment and open murder where Ariel was extensively examined and cross examined, have we not heard confirmation or negation of Ariel's claim that she took a polygraph by any of the authorities or of what the results were.
This included an unsuccessful FOIA foray in the summer of 2012 by this reporter to get a variety of records including polygraph results of Ariel's. At the appeal, Ms. Courtland actually showed up to the Ludington city council meeting and reportedly talked to the police chief afterwards about releasing the records, according to the City of Ludington Daily News reporter present. They were denied by the labelling of them as "investigative records" at that time, the chief implying the investigation was ongoing even though they had successfully investigated enough at the time to imprison Sean Phillips for 10-15 years.
With the State finished with prosecuting Phillips any further, these records should not be investigative records, but unfortunately in the time since 2012, new court FOIA precedent has emerged that restricts third parties who are public bodies from giving polygraph records in their possession to the public.
I say unfortunately because such rulings allow prosecutors, police, and the taker of a polygraph test to make claims about lie detector tests without it being verifiable, unless the one tested specifically allows it. Those without scruples can easily use it to taint the jury pool when they can make untrue claims about passing one, while police and prosecutors who may know otherwise cannot directly comment on it without fear of committing a crime.
As noted in the media reports, court transcripts, and press releases, no official has ever claimed that Ariel Courtland took a polygraph test, let alone passed it, only Ariel has claimed this-- and only when she has not been under oath.
One has to wonder why the three detectives on the case and the multiple police agencies involved would allow Ms. Courtland to broadcast a falsehood if she didn't actually take a lie detector test. Surely, fibbing about such a thing would throw her credibility in question if these officials corrected her.
But to get a conviction of Mr. Phillips, they would need her to have as much credibility as possible. She was the only person in the world that day who saw Baby Kate with him. He wasn't talking, and if they started to pin things on her, she wouldn't agree to be their main witness, and they would not have a very solid case against either parent. So if she had lied about the lie detector test and results, they had a good reason to not correct the record.
Much of FOIA Request #326 had nothing to do with a polygraph, however, I just wanted to see the full record of their investigations which are to all intents over after their murder conviction. What I got was an incredible bill and an ambiguous answer. The following public records can be found in full starting on page 127 of the March 6, 2017 LCC Packet, I offer in brevity a summary.
I made a Feb 16, 2017 FOIA Request with my standard parameters asking for: "Interviews with Ariel Courtland ( any recordings and transcripts) taken in 2011 concerning the disappearance of her daughter 'Baby Kate'. Include all such records in your possession from that year even if done by other agencies and include any polygraph test results (in full) that may have been administered to her. Please include also the police report generated for the abduction by the LPD and the addendums added since (such as for the 2013 search)."
In retrospect, it may have been better to convert this into a couple of different FOIA requests, but at the time I presumed that Ariel's interrogation and polygraph records would be subsumed with the overall report, and it may be, but the answer I received on Feb. 24, 2017 stated:
"In response to your FOIA Request #326, please be advised that your request was Granted in Part and Denied in Part. Statutorily, the City is banned from disclosing information, report or results from a polygraph examiner (Forensic Polygraph Examiner's Act, MCL 338.1728(3)). Similarly, the record contains personal information, and its disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy. This information would require redacting and segregating the record. Since the cost of responding your request of the granted portion is estimated to exceed $50.00 (see attached Work Sheet), a deposit in the amount of $1,239.50 (1/2 estimated cost) will be required. Upon receipt of your deposit, the City will compile the requested record(s). Please be advised that the City's estimate does not include costs associated with copying. It is possible that when the process of redacting begins the number of copies that would be required to make would exceed a number for which the City normally does not charge."
The cost worksheet was included above. In reviewing it you may notice that they want to charge me for an LPD detective working for 100 hours in order to separate exempt from non-exempt information. For those of you who have not looked through many dozens of police reports, some quite extensive and covering over 100 pages of data, there is rarely any exempt information past the first couple pages, where you blacken out phone numbers, SSNs, addresses, and other things that are private to the people concerned. One hundred hours to do that-- that must be one productive detective.
Besides the polygraph exemption, this is the only one claimed (FOIA Response_326.pdf), and so I whipped out an appeal of this bizarre decision a couple of days later after reviewing the latest polygraph rulings:
"This is a fee/process appeal of the FOIA response to a FOIA request I made which is attached to this E-mail chain.
First off, appellant affirms that the polygraph records involving Ms. Courtland are legally exempt by the law stated, however, the response also indicates that the records effectively exist, since the exemption "records do not exist" was never claimed, and also that polygraph records exist because of the exemption used. Please correct that presumption if it is in error.
Second, the cost estimate response informs me that it will take 100 1/4 hour increments (aka 25 hours) of a police detective's time to separate the exempt from non-exempt information in the police reports and addenda of the 'Baby Kate disappearance'. Attorney Alvarado then charges me for 100 hours of his time or $2479. Are you really expecting me to pay a detective nearly three week's pay to darken a few addresses, phone numbers and social security numbers (one's that probably already have been redacted)? This could be done by any police clerk in a couple of minutes.
Third, if there are any exemptions beyond those noted, your agency in their response is to supply detailed affidavits describing the matters withheld and why they fit the privacy exemption (as per Evening News, etc.).
Fourth, I will reference that this agency called in representatives from three different local news agencies (WMOM, MCP and LDN) to fill out FOIA paperwork to receive police reports and video regarding a complaint concerning alleged threatening words on my website by members other than myself. The media each received many pages of reports and video including a discussion I had with Defective Aaron Sailor. This discussion, where I was never told that I was being recorded, contained my address and several other things that may fall within personal privacy exemptions. This video was shared by MCP to the general public with this information unredacted; furthermore, unqualified character assessments and unverified innuendo were made of one cleared of any crime in that situation ('Aquaman'), bringing up several issues involving the agency and him from many years back where he was never charged with anything. It seems rather farfetched to believe that the LPD is now concerned with the privacy rights of others.
Please take this up at your March 6, 2017 meeting."
As noted, I give my home address at the 40 second point of this interview, I also inform Defective Sailor at the ten second point that I am going to be recording the meeting at the police station he invited me in to get information (and I went to voluntarily for the same purpose). He did not tell me that he was recording me, in violation of the law (a felony MCL 750.539c), as I had no reasonable belief that I was being recorded in this otherwise private meeting room. He surely never told me.
As I ponder whether to press charges on Defective Sailor, the LPD, and/or the City of Ludington for the criminal act of eavesdropping, or just go for civil remedies under MCL 750.539h, they try to block the public from reviewing the interrogation of a suspect in an abduction/murder case by setting a baseless fee, claiming they need 100 hours of separating personal info out of it with zero justification.
The only question you need to ask with all of this information is: Who are they trying to protect by constructively denying the request? Ariel Courtland? Their own sloppy police work? Both?
Monday's meeting should be very enlightening, even after Sunshine Week.
One day there will be such a huge lawsuit that the City and Police department is permanently closed and out of business.
The police/city/ prosecutors offices don't have the courage to be open and allow those who pay their salary to know what they are doing. The secrecy and and holding the information hostage in lieu of an obscene amount of money only casts shadows and does nothing to provide assurances that they really are there to protect and uphold the law. It is their stance, we know and you don't need to know, as we have the power....is exactly what leads to the the public to mistrust. Then those same people use the smoke in mirrors approach to improve their PR by "Shop with a Cop" and other such programs. When you have nothing to hide...there is nothing to hide. They may not need all the legal mumbo jumbo and their guns/tasers if they had the real courage to protect the citizens instead of just themselves.
These people need to be held to account. I sure don't know how a baby can disappear and no one find her. What is more sacred than a human life? A gift thrown away and the system lacks the courage to find out where is this child and or her body is currently located.
The now darkened part of my heart says, if it were the child of a police officer /prosecutor/mayor or someone of great wealth.....that body would not only be found but those responsible would be hung high in town square. Vengeance be theirs....but the rest of us can whistle Dixie. I would be ashamed to be any part of that system. Too much parceling off of responsibility and accountability for me.
On the subject of XLFD being video taped, that is a violation and I'd be sure to file a law suit because that seems to be the only language they speak. If ever those people request to speak with you, be sure to do it on your terms with your cameras and not theirs. Interesting how "their agenda" is more important than what is best for the entire community.
Madonna can say she wants to burn down the White House and somehow that is fine, yet some fella says something blowing off steam and those folks have fear they are in danger. Apparently there isn't enough for them to be doing....oh yeah....I'm sorry I forgot....they do have 25 hours to wield a sharpie marker on paperwork. Damn....that is some serious detective work on their part. Protecting and serving with a sharpie marker....gotta love it. All that "schooling" for playing with markers all in an effort to protect the public.
Thanks for joining the conversation about Baby Kate, IHAN, I would be interested in knowing whether you've heard much about the case that had national attention prior to reaching out to grab a Torch.
It should be noted that the above interview was conducted while I was running for a city councilor post, recorded without my knowledge and distributed to the local media in the oddest way, they called in the chief news editors of three local media (and me) in order to distribute to each a "foia response".
Mind you, I was the only person to actually request the 'investigation' records, but Chief Barnett each made these three media sign FOIA requests he made out for them, and handed them the video of me at the police station carrying on what I thought was a private conversation that I recorded as according to law, where I was there to inquire why the investigation of my two members was being conducted. It was turned into not only a witch hunt on my two defamed members, but a blatantly political stunt to shine a bad light on me to the majority of the community who do not pay close attention to city affairs.
They can attempt all they like to shine a negative light, when a light shines bright, the darkness has no effect, it just casts shadows back towards the source of darkness.
Small people defend, great people stay open to the process and continue on their journey undetoured. They may not like your persistence, perseverance and determination...they may even perceive it as arrogance, who knows. I have found that to be the case in my situation. To have a woman question men in an open and forthright manner without fear or cowering...oh they just hate that. Many people with big egos hate to be held to the task because it reveals parts of themselves they don't want to own....easier to defend, make excuses and blame.
It's official. Tonight the Ludington City Council unanimously upholds the FOIA Coordinator's decision to charge $2479 for a FOIA request in order to pay an LPD detective 100 hours of his professional time to review one police report 'line by line' to see whether there is anything that rises to the level of a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy in its pages. The rationale for the decision was incredible.
You pay $2479 and maybe they will tell you what they know, not likely.
I have paid and been lied to by two city departments saying they had no records (when I knew otherwise). Being family of the victim, in my case, I know from the inside. Some city's personnel are not worth their weight in animal waste. It is a game and there is no transparency, in my experience.
If I pay for $2500 worth of editing I will get $2500 worth of editing, that is, they will neuter out so many things that should have been left in, that it will be far from worth it. The limitations of FOIA is that you are totally dependent on state agents doing what they are supposed to, but experience shows that many of these people don't care about their duties to the public-- and that percentage has been growing larger since good people are totally turned off by such errant behavior being deemed acceptable by fellow agents/agencies.
As we know all to well, "Freedom of Information Act" is not free nor is it transparent. It is my believe it should be handled by an outside party well versed in FOIA law as well as the use of a sharpie marker, a desktop scanner and be non-bias. This is like asking the mice to keep the cheese safe.
Wish you had the funds... and then file a FOIA for the officiers hours schedule and tasks as I would think that the hours have to be correct and complete to the state and federal. Such crap.