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Website sues Salt Lake County for booking photos

Published May 22, 2013 2:29 pm

Jail • Bustedmugshots.com operator claims denial guts the public's right of access.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The operator of a website that publishes jail-booking pictures sued Salt Lake County on Tuesday for refusing his request for photographs of people admitted to the Salt Lake County Jail during 17 days in January.

Kyle Prall and his company, Information Freedom, LLC, are asking a 3rd District Court judge to overturn a County Council decision April 9 that upheld Sheriff Jim Winder's rejection of an application — through the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) — for 1,388 "mug shots" of people booked into the jail between Jan. 11 and Jan. 27.

"Respondents' position would set a dangerous precedent that would extend well beyond mug shots and threaten to completely gut the public's right of access," said the suit filed by Texas-based Prall, who runs the website bustedmugshots.com.

He attacked the sheriff's position that his office can deny access because it created the photographs and thus has copyright control.

"Virtually all government records are created by government agencies," Prall argued. "If that fact alone were sufficient to allow an agency to say it owned the 'copyright' in those records, and on that basis to deny public access, nearly all records would be non-public and GRAMA would be meaningless.

"Information Freedom brings this action to address this threat," he added. "Pictures of individuals incarcerated in a public facility is a matter of legitimate public interest and concern, and no legitimate interest is served by withholding those records from the public."

He also maintained the county could not "discriminate against people requesting records based on who they are and what they want to use them for."

County Council Chairman Steve DeBry declined comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

When the matter appeared before the County Council on April 9, Deputy District Attorney David Johnson contended Prall was exaggerating the threat to the open-records concept. He said mug shots are still considered part of the public record, but that the sheriff's office is not obligated to make them available in bulk upon demand and has established a written procedure for obtaining them.


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