In 2016 a Michigan prisoner named Dustin Szot died under suspicious circumstances. He was allegedly involved in an altercation with another prisoner, 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 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 June 2019 the Michigan Court of Claims ruled that MDOC’s policy was illegal and ordered the state to turn over the video footage. The case is now in the Michigan Court of Appeals in a dispute over attorneys’ fees.

(Woodman v. Michigan Department of Corrections; ACLU Attorneys Dan Korobkin and Michael J. Steinberg; Cooperating Attorneys Robert Riley, Marie Greenman, Olivia Vizachero, and Rian Dawson of Honigman.) 

Status

Defending liberty