In 2016 a Michigan prisoner named Dustin Szot died under suspicious circumstances.
He was allegedly involved in an altercation with another inmate, and prison guards shocked him with a Taser. Spencer Woodman, an independent journalist who reports nationally on criminal justice issues, learned that the entire incident was captured on video and requested a copy of the footage under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) refused to release the video, claiming that its disclosure would somehow undermine prison security.
In April 2017, the ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit on Woodman’s behalf, arguing that the state had no legitimate justification for keeping the video secret. During discovery, we learned that the MDOC staff has a policy of automatically denying all FOIA requests for videos, without even viewing the video in question to determine whether or how its disclosure would threaten security.
In August 2018, Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens ruled that MDOC’s policy was illegal and ordered the state to provide her with the videos for an in-chambers review. She also ordered the state to immediately release any audio that accompanied the video.
(Woodman v. Michigan Department of Corrections; ACLU Attorneys Dan Korobkin and Michael J. Steinberg; Cooperating Attorneys Robert Riley, Marie Greenman, and Olivia Vizachero of Honigman.)