Burlington man wins court appeal on access to body camera footage

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) The Vermont Supreme Court in a split decision has sided with a Burlington resident who was denied free access to police body camera footage.

In the summer of 2017, Burlington resident Reed Doyle says he witnessed a disproportionate police response to a playground fight at Roosevelt Park in the city's Old North End. He told WCAX News an officer pushed a teenage boy, which is why he wanted to see the police body camera footage.

Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo argued that in videos where minors are involved, they must redact portions to protect identities, which takes time. Doyle says he was also told it would cost hundreds of dollars. The ACLU of Vermont represented Doyle in the case.

In a ruling Friday, the high court reversed a lower court decision and said the BPD cannot charge for staff time spent in complying with public record requests.

"This policy is based on the Legislature's acknowledgment that 'open access to governmental records is a fundamental precept of our society,'" and that "'It is the role of the Legislature, not the judiciary, to balance public policy interests and enact law.'"

Justices Eaton and Carroll dissented, saying that while the underlying policy of the Pubic Records Act is to provide free examination of records, "The Legislature recognized that record requests 'entail expending public resources to fulfill requests' and thus established in the PRA 'a process for public agencies to charge requesters for the actual costs of copying public records and for staff time associated with fulfilling requests.'"

The ACLU of Vermont represented Doyle in the case.