The city of Yakima violated the state’s Public Records Act when it refused to release a report on misconduct allegations against a police officer, Yakima Superior Court Judge Susan Hahn ruled Monday.
She found the city wrongfully claimed a law enforcement exemption when it withheld records from an internal investigation of Sgt. Erik Hildebrand, who later resigned.
Olympia open records advocate Arthur West sought the records in March 2012 after reading about how the city had denied a request from the Yakima Herald-Republic, the newspaper reported Tuesday.
West’s records request and subsequent lawsuit were separate and independent from the Herald-Republic’s records request.
“These are the kind of records the public needs to see — and promptly,” West said.
The city hasn’t decided whether to appeal the judge’s ruling, City Attorney Jeff Cutter said.
The city could have to pay penalties and legal costs. A hearing is expected in July.
Hildebrand was placed on paid administrative leave after being accused of misconduct on March 5, 2012. The Herald-Republic’s March 9, 2012, request for copies of the department’s internal investigation of the officer was denied.
The city said the records were part of an active investigation, even though internal affairs officers had turned in their report, which found the allegations substantiated.
The investigative report that was eventually obtained by the Herald-Republic showed that Hildebrand, a 15-year veteran of the department, had printed out racy photos of a prostitute, purchased beer for her and sent her inappropriate text messages — actions that investigators said ruined a criminal case against her alleged pimp.
The officer resigned in May 2012.
West said many of the documents in the Hildebrand file did not fall under the law-enforcement exemption and could have been released immediately.
His lawsuit argued that the city’s initial response failed to identify withheld records, give an estimate of the time needed for their production, and provide a log listing the documents and the basis for each exemption. It also argued that the city’s categorical use of the law-enforcement exemption was invalid in this case.
“On all points, Mr. West is correct,” Hahn wrote in explaining her decision.