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Madison Police squad car tight crop (copy)

Weekly newspaper Isthmus is suing the Madison Police Department over what it said is an overly long delay in handing over records that the newspaper first requested in 2016.

Following a period in which its record request was narrowed and clarified, Isthmus paid for 729 pages of records from MPD in March 2017, the lawsuit states, but the newspaper still hasn’t received any of the records.

“No explanation MPD could offer would justify a record request being delayed for 11 months after the records had been identified and paid for,” the lawsuit states.

Isthmus is being represented in the lawsuit by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a Milwaukee organization that generally works on behalf of conservatives, but has also litigated open records issues. One of the lawyers representing Isthmus, Thomas Kamenick, is a member of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.

Madison City Attorney Michael May said he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit, but said his office would consult with MPD “and will produce any records that are available for release as soon as possible.”

According to the lawsuit, freelance writer Gil Halsted, working with Isthmus reporter Dylan Brogan, sent a record request to Madison police on Dec. 7, 2016. From then until Feb. 21, 2017, Halsted and Madison police Lieutenant John Radovan discussed revisions and clarifications to the request, which sought emails and mobile data computer messages from MPD that included the names Sarah Anderson and Steve Heimsness, between Oct. 1, 2012, through Oct. 1, 2013.

According to charges filed in 2013 by then-Police Chief Noble Wray that sought Heimsness’ dismissal, the messages involved Heimsness hiding fellow officer Anderson’s service rifle after she had left it in a squad car at the end of her shift. Wray had sought to fire Heimsness after he shot and killed Paul Heenan on Madison’s East Side in 2012, but said at the time that he was firing Heimsness for violating departmental policies not related to the Heenan shooting. Heimsness instead retired on disability.

In March, Radovan wrote to Halsted telling him that the records were collected and asked for payment of $182 to copy them. Brogan paid the bill.

Over the next several months, the lawsuit states, Brogan called Radovan at least six times asking for the records, but was offered excuses why they were not ready. In email messages, Radovan promised to be done with redactions to the records first by the end of June, then by the end of July.

By August, despite other communications about it, the records hadn’t been released, and still haven’t been produced.

“It is unfortunate that we must turn to litigation in order to obtain information from a department that prides itself on transparency,” Isthmus editor Judith Davidoff said in a statement. “We hope this case can benefit all Wisconsin records requesters by providing clarity on how long is too long when waiting for a government agency to fulfill a records request.”

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Ed Treleven is the courts reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.