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Sheriff's Department settles open-records suit

Sheriff's Department settles open-records suit

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An open records lawsuit filed against the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department that stemmed from an incident in 2003 reached a resolution this week in Kenosha County Circuit Court.

According to online court records, the civil lawsuit filed by Kevin Mathewson reached its conclusion Wednesday when the Sheriff’s Department agreed to turn over records, pay court costs, attorney fees and $100 in statutory damages. The case was then dismissed.

The suit was filed in August when Mathewson made an open records request to obtain incident reports from a traffic stop that involved a former Kenosha firefighter.

The firefighter was stopped by a deputy for suspected drunken driving and also found to be in possession of a loaded gun and open alcohol containers. He was neither arrested or charged with a crime, according to news reports at the time of the stop.

Mathewson’s request for the records was denied in writing by the department. Sgt. David Wright, who serves as the department’s public information officer, confirmed Thursday the request was denied for a medical reason because it was believed there may be a health issue that led to the incident.

“Record custodians need to realize their job is to provide the greatest possible access to government information,” said Tom Kamenick, president and founder of the Wisconsin Transparency Project, in a press release. “Too often, they look for every excuse, no matter how flimsy, in order to deny a request. Strict enforcement of record laws is necessary in order to discourage such behavior.”

Kamenick, reached by telephone Thursday, said the outcome was exactly what his organization, which represented Mathewson in the lawsuit, was seeking.

“That’s exactly what we wanted,” he said. “It’s always good when they realize right away that they’ve done wrong. Of course, they won’t admit it in the settlement agreement. That’s pretty typical. They did the right thing by turning the records over.

“It’s just unfortunate that people need to hire attorneys to get these things done. Custodians should be turning over these records as a matter of course.”

Attempts to reach Jennifer J. Kopp of the Kenosha County Corporation Council’s office, who represented the department, were unsuccessful.

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