The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon is defending a local social justice organization, the Central Oregon Peacekeepers, in a lawsuit brought on by the city of Bend over thousands of public records.

The public records dispute has launched the issue of access to public records into the limelight, with the ACLU arguing the city has acted in “bad faith” by charging the racial justice activist group differently than other requests.

“It shouldn’t cost two months’ rent for an activist to see what their government is doing,” said Alan Kessler, an attorney from ACLU of Oregon representing the Peacekeepers.

In January, Michael Satcher, a member of the Central Oregon Peacekeepers, requested city records pertaining to events at Pilot Butte Neighborhood Park on Oct. 3, where Trump supporters and Black Lives Matter activists clashed, according to court documents. Satcher also requested any records that speak to the general relationship between the Bend Police Department and groups that antagonize social justice advocates, according to the ACLU.

The city sought $3,600 from Satcher and the Peacekeepers to pay for the request, according to the ACLU. The city argues the fee is reasonable because the request was broad and took about 65 hours of staff time.

Satcher and the Peacekeepers asked for a public interest fee waiver. The city instead offered to reduce the fee by 25% and asked the racial justice group to narrow its request.

In February, Satcher filed an appeal with Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel, who issued a decision that found the city’s fee decision was unreasonable, according to court documents.

In March, the city filed a lawsuit against Satcher and the Peacekeepers, asking a judge to find that offering a 25% reduction in fees was reasonable. If the city wins, the Peacekeepers may have to pay roughly $3,600 to the city. ACLU’s counterclaim seeks the city pay its legal costs.

“We are just seeking the truth, and the city is coming after us for it,” Luke Richter, founder of the Peacekeepers, wrote in a press release from the ACLU. “We can’t fix our broken policing system if those in charge are willing to break the law and punish the truth seekers in order to hide its actions.”

Kessler said this case highlights the larger issue of governments not providing adequate access to public records to everyone — not just organizations or lawyers with money and resources.

“In order to speak intelligently and make changes in democracy, the public needs to have information ... they need to have access to good information about what the government is doing,” Kessler said Thursday.

The city is seeking what is called a declaratory judgment action — which in this case, means the city is asking the court to clarify what the law says when it comes to public records, said Mary Winters, the city’s attorney. Amid the legal battle, the city has continued to release records to the group.

The city believes Hummel created a new standard for this and future fee-waiver requests that is contrary to state law, Winters said. The concern is setting a precedent of waiving fees for other large requests.

“Because we process requests in a non-discriminatory manner, a new standard for fee waiver requests could mean City staff have to perform free work for other groups or individuals with very different political or social views from the Peacekeepers,” Winters wrote in an email. “The issue of the standard is important enough to take to court and get a clear answer.”

But Kessler, one of the attorneys representing the Peacekeepers, said the solution to the issue of the city not having enough resources to process this request is not to put the burden upon the person requesting the documents. The solution is for the city to adequately budget enough staff and money to process requests.

Currently, the city only budgets two hours of time to answer public records requests, according to court documents.

“If the city weren’t able to process all of its wastewater and sewage, it would fix that problem...it’s a government function,” he said. “In the same way, archiving and making available public records is a government function.”

The city’s request for the group to narrow the scope of its request is also problematic, given that the requestors of public records usually are not well funded enough to fight legal battles in court or pay large fees. It is also hard to know whether a city’s request for a narrower search is specifically created to limit what someone can see, Kessler said.

“There is a huge power imbalance,” Kessler said.

Kessler said the city claiming it acted non discriminatorily is also questionable, arguing that the city at the same time it was charging the Peacekeepers $71.06 per hour to review documents charged only $30 per hour to someone else who submitted a public records request days before.

Winters said the city did not double the rate because who was requesting the records, and that the two requests are not comparable.

The first request was charged under one section of the fee resolution, which charges a $30 flat fee for simple requests that are estimated to take an hour or less of time.

Satcher’s request was charged under a different section of the city’s fee resolution reserved for more time consuming requests, and charges requestors the actual cost of service and is billed by an hourly rate.

“We don’t practice viewpoint or any other kind of discrimination. We haven’t, at least in recent memory, had any requestor refuse to work with us on focusing a request, so we haven’t had to charge this kind of fee before,” Winters wrote in an email. “This issue is not about (the) content of records, but is a relatively straightforward and honest disagreement on the reasonableness of fees and whether the City has discretion to charge fees for a broad and expansive request in this case.”

Reporter: 541-633-2160,

bvisser@bendbulletin.com

(7) comments

Janus81

When in doubt, John Hummel will always align himself with those who hold the law, the law-abiding, and particularly the law enforcers in contempt. He has now in his fifth year as DA and has managed to avoid trying any cases or keeping any caseload whatsoever. What does he do? Except tell everyone he's the sure thing for Biden's pick for U.S. Attorney? His entire career has been on looking for his next chance to advance...himself.

CardiacSpike

Well, not really…

First, John Hummel publicly aligned himself with the Central Oregon Peacekeepers on numerous occasions in 2020, to include being interviewed by them and posting on their Facebook page. Clearly a conflict of interests on his part to review any legal issue involving Michael Satcher and Luke Richter, aka “the Peacekeepers”.

Second, the Central Oregon Peacekeepers, on Facebook, are listed as a local business. They are not a properly registered or recognized non-profit organization as is the Central Oregon Black Leaders Assembly, for example. Neither are they a trained and certified private security provider in the State of Oregon, per DPSST which offered the following when asked –

“You are correct that these types of organizations do not fall under our jurisdiction, so we do not have any recourse for compliance and rely on law enforcement for this. The public can look up the status of any private security or any other DPSST certified individual – to include law enforcement in IRIS. Access to IRIS is available on our website and it is very user friendly, requiring no login. If you locate a certified individual that you may want additional information on, you would have to submit a public records request. I am not aware, at this time anyways, if there has been discussion on regulating these types of groups.” – Michelle Morrison, DPSST

Next, Michael Satcher promotes himself as being a journalist / reporter and therefore claims the benefit of, at times, fees for public records requests being either lowered or waived. Satcher’s only venues are his and the COPK Facebook pages, and the COPK page has been shut down at least once by Facebook for the content of its posts.

https://www.facebook.com/Central-Oregon-Peacekeepers-106204461146894

As has Luke Richter’s Facebook page, much to his dismay.

It has only been recently that Satcher/Richter/COPK has “cleaned up” the content of their Facebook pages to sustain them on Facebook as well as, perhaps, for this trial, among other reasons.

Mr. Satcher’s manner of submitting public records requests reflects his lack of experience and training in doing so. In a past series of Facebook rants he decried Deschutes County for its roughly $75,000 billing when he demanded literally thousands upon thousands of emails, each which requires by law a review and if necessary redactions of information. When he would not, at the County’s request, narrow and specify what information he was seeking – to include an offer from the County to help him do so, he again demanded everything he had originally submitted requests for. The County’s response, per the public record, was to offer he could take his unhappiness to district court if he so chose to.

To date that has, apparently, not occurred.

The State laws governing public records requests are quite clear as are the City of Bend’s policies and procedures. And there is little difference from the larger and far more complicated Freedom of Information (FOIA) laws, policies, and procedures regarding request criteria, fees, redactions, and the time necessary to process each FOIA request.

As a published author and journalist with a verifiable body of now Work spanning 40 years I am aware of the simple professional skills necessary to see successful public records requests written, submitted, and fulfilled. This to include multiple investigative reports, some of which received national and international attention once published.

Mr. Satcher, in my professional training and experience, would have been far more successful had he humbled himself and listened to those with bona fide experience in journalism as well as in public records processing who offered to help him navigate the process. And a few classes in Journalism as offered at COCC would not hurt, either.

BendDontBreak

Greg, nobody respects you.

CardiacSpike

“Life is too short to waste your time on people who don’t respect, appreciate, and value you.”

Roy T. Bennett

BendDontBreak

And that's why you spend your life relegated to the comments section, Mr. Walker.

kindergentlerbend

The Pilot Butte Park melee and the ICE bus blockade qualify as locally historic events that will remain embedded in our memories for a long time to come. Never before have Bendites shown up spontaneously in such numbers, when they surrounded those busses in an act of peaceful civil disobedience. At Pilot Butte we witnessed what was very likely a coordinated attempt by local militia--including at least one man who was armed--to disrupt a picnic attended by Black Lives Matter-affiliated activists.

In both cases, based on the information so far attained by Central Oregon Peacekeepers, the behind the scenes conduct by the Bend Police Dept. was consequential and had a bearing on how these two events played out.

The City of Bend should have published this sought for information surrounding these two events on its website for all to see. Instead, the City has retreated into a defensive, risk-averse mode that may be understandable from a legalistic standpoint, but does nothing to advance our civic life.

We need an independent entity within the City, such as an Ombudsman or a civilian police oversight commission, to determine what the public has a right to see. Such information is too important to be kept under wraps by being made too costly to access.

CardiacSpike

Hardly peaceful and hardly "peacekeeping".

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/social-justice-mob-runs-amuck-protecting-domestic-violence-walker/

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